In this interview with State House correspondents, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state spoke on a couple of issues including the frequent herdsmen/farmers clash and the controversial construction of cargo airport in the state. Excerpts:
Why did you visit the President today?
I came to visit Mr. President, once in a while is important to brief the president about my state so that we are on the same page. We have been having security challenges but thank God with the collaboration with some security agencies in my state and with the support of Mr. President, I can say that is relatively calm. Today, the issue of herdsmen and farmers we have been able to through dialogue agree to work together in a manner that there will be win-win. Yes, the herdsmen have their rights to live but the farmers too have their rights to live and do their farming activities. The herdsmen too must find ways of relating with the farmers and not encroaching on people’s farms. We have told our people that we need one another, life is complimentary and we need one another. We must compliment one another by ensuring that anyone who has a chosen career must be supported to pursue it. And so today the state is relatively calm.
There were other issues bothering on economy. Today, we are talking about diversifying the economy and we have comparative advantage in Agriculture, that is what we are promoting, we are expecting multiple harvests this year. Our people yielded to advise to go back to farm because food first before any other thing. We also appreciate the investors who are coming into the state, coming to process our primary products. So is important that once in a while I brief Mr. President about the development in my state.
What is the latest on the Fulani herdsmen/farmers clash?
Dialogue. Let people understand that if we say live and let’s live, we are in a global village today you cannot live in isolation, we must live with one another. You know that as a Tiv man we like eating meat, I also know that a Fulani man also like to eats food. So we have they food and they have the meat so we must always find a way around it and not allowing criminality to be involved. I think the issue was amplified because of the criminality that was involved. We have criminals from the herdsmen side and also from the farmers side. We are aware that when these criminals will come they rustle cattle and the herdsmen will come and attack these villagers who are innocent. These are the issues and we have all come together because our common enemy are these criminals, so we are fighting them because once we remove these criminals they will be peace. We want the herdsmen to do things that will not encroach on people’s farms and farmers too will not have issue with them.
Have you written to the president over your grievances on appointments as agreed by APC governors?
Is the prerogative of Mr. President to do appointments but where there is need we always give support. We have written where we have reservations and is being attended to.
Why can we not build ranches like is done in the USA?
I have always said this, if we can copy the presidential system from America why can we not copy ranching? But you see is a gradual process and cannot be done over night. We are propagating ranching as the final and lasting solution to these issues of herdsmen and farmers clashes. But is something that cannot be done over night. We need the collaboration of the states and the federation to agree on a formula, one for the nomads. In Nigeria, we must find a way of educating them, give them a new orientation on how to live better by ensuring that we establish ranching and government must come in to provide the infrastructure and support that is needed to do this.
So, this is where the federal government and states must come together to work out this. The final solution I tell you the truth is about ranching because the line that use to exist in the 50s where cattle routes and grazing areas were designated are no longer there. Today, we no longer have the 923,000 kilometers as it used to be because we have seeded part of Bakassi to Cameroon. And because of the increase in human population, in the 50s we were less than 40 million people but today we are over 170 million and that was 2012 projection and today we are in 2016 and we should be more than this.
Today we are talking of diversification of the economy to agriculture it becomes more tasking and challenging because we cannot farm in the air or on the sea, we must farm on the land. Grazing and farming cannot work together, the final solution will be ranching. But meanwhile, we must find a way of living together, that is why we are advocating that peace remains the only tool that can bring development to our country. Fighting will not help anyone, it will not help farmers nor the herdsmen, they will die and properties will be destroyed. It won’t help. As a farmer, I know the herdsmen needs support, the farmers too need support to be able to live a good live.
Don’t you think you are foreclosing chance of elections with appointment of care takers committee?
We will conduct elections as soon as we have the resources. The point is we were given a bill of N1 billion to conduct elections when I cannot pay salaries. I’m down by four months. My wage bill for a month is N7.8 billion. Since August of last year we have been receiving an average of N4 billion so how do I cope? Every month I have a deficit of N3.8 billion to pay workers and then run the government. It is a big challenge. My Internally Generated Revenue (IGI) is N250 million. So is a big challenge. So as soon as the resources are there I will conduct election. I’m a product of a democratic process, I don’t see why I will truncate it at the local government level. I was a local government chairman democratically elected on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1991 and I see no reason why I should truncate that. So it is not my making and I have consulted with the stakeholders of Benue State and they have given me the go ahead.
What is the essence of building a cargo airport?
Benue state is the food basket of the nation and we feel that that is one way that we can task our people to revive our economy. We are doing it in partnership with a consortium that we are working together. They are providing 85 per cent and Benue State is providing 15 per cent of the resources that will be required for this. But we believe that it will be a hub for transportation of agricultural products especially parishable products to other parts of the world, to have a taste of what Benue state can provide.