By Comfort Obi
Former Governor of Benue state and now, the Senator representing Benue North-West Senatorial District, George Akume and, the incumbent Benue state Governor, Samuel Ortom are disgracefully tearing at each other.
In the face of the sufferings of Benue people – economic, physical, emotional – Akume and Ortom are dancing naked in the market square. They are telling the people why both of them should be spat on the face. The irony: Both see themselves as leaders of their people.
My sincere advice to them: Shut-up and hide your faces in shame. While Benue is burning, you are playing Rome’s Nero.
I was their fan.
A few years back, I took to Akume when a friend of mine, and former Managing Director of the defunct Nigeria Airways, the polished and urbane Chief Agom, a Benue indigene, was killed while in the same car with then Governor Akume. They were on their way from Makurdi to Abuja when alleged daring armed robbers, operating along the highway, shot the Governor’s vehicle and killed Agom who was sitting by Akume’s side. I watched Akume weep like a baby, thereafter, as Agom’s bullet-riddled, lifeless, body was stretched out. He was, to me, all human that day. And even though I never really met him, my admiration of him stuck until he started playing god, politically.
For Governor Ortom, I loved his grass to grace story. He was not ashamed of his background and never sexed-up his less than tidy beginning. He was a motor park tout (Agbero), a bus conductor and, a bus driver. He also tells you he got a couple of his educational qualifications by Correspondence. Not many Nigerian big men and women remember where they came from once they become Very Very Important Personalities (VVIP). For that, I admired Ortom no end until he mis-spoke, in a very degrading manner, during an interview he granted in 2015 after he decamped from the then ruling PDP to the APC.
Denied of the PDP governorship ticket, Akume, who was the APC leader in Benue then, offered him the APC ticket if he decamped. He did, and Akume kept his words, thus becoming Ortom’s political godfather. Oh, how Nigeria politicians like to be called godfathers!
There was nothing wrong in Ortom finding succor in the arms of the APC then. But, there was everything wrong in his choice words in the interview he granted. He told the Reporter that he was conversant with the PDP rigging machine, and knew how it won its elections and would, therefore, check-mate the party. Meaning: Ortom acknowledged that he was a party to electoral fraud. In more civilized countries, that statement would have marked his end politically, or worse, seen him behind bars. I was shocked he could say something like that just to run down a party which, by the grace of God, made him who he is today. Using the PDP platform, Ortom became a Local Government Chairman, the party’s National Auditor, and later, a Federal Minister. I found it odd that he could forget all that so easily. But you know, most Nigerian politicians are shameless and have no ideology. They hide their shamelessness by telling you “In politics, there are no permanent enemies, only permanent interests” Please, interpret that interest to mean their selfish interest in capital letters. (For the records, Akume was also a governor under the PDP for eight years!) If anybody had told Ortom then that in 2018, he would go back to his vomit, as have a good number of his compatriots, he would have said an emphatic “God forbid.” So, now, he is back to the PDP.
After that interview, I lost interest in Ortom. But I took notice of him again when Herdsmen began to deal with Benue state. I identified with his pain and helplessness and confusion and tears. He spoke up courageously against the Federal Government’s seeming I don’t-care-attitude towards the massacre of his people – and, that, without minding that he is a member of the ruling party, the APC. He blamed the massacre on the Federal Government. And, at a point, accused the FG, almost, of conniving with the Herdsmen who were sending his subjects to early graves. He also refused to spare the leadership of the Military and the Police. And at a point, pointedly accused their leadership of planning with Herdsmen to kill him.
Not that he had a choice, but I was relieved, for him, when he quit the APC. He had fallen out with Akume, his godfather, who according to Ortom, was already shopping for his replacement, over which he, Ortom, declared himself partyless. But most important, Ortom, as a former motor park tout is smart. He knows that remaining in APC would amount to a political suicide. He knows that Benue people, unless a miracle happens, may never vote APC in 2019 because of the Herdsmen issue. So, smartly, he jumped ship and went back to his vomit.
But since then, Akume and Ortom have been insulting us with their pronouncements. In their bid to destroy each other, they have given us no breathing space. And in doing so, they have told us in no uncertain terms what a deceit they both are. And what co-conspirators they are in covering up for each other to the shame of Benue people.
For me, this came to a head on Sunday, September 9 when Akume alleged that his godson, Ortom, the governor of Benue state, has been parading a fake PhD certificate. Speaking in Makurdi at an APC caucus meeting, as published in newspapers of Tuesday, September 11, Akume said: “Ortom said he has a PhD from the Commonwealth University of Berlin, but there is nothing like Commonwealth University.” Then he flaunted his own qualifications. “At least, I am a graduate of the University of Ibadan where I bagged my first and second degrees. I am also a fellow of the institute of Management and I have honourary PhD from the University of Jos.”
But I need to find out if Akume prefixes his name with Dr. You know, in Nigeria, when one is given an Honourary Doctorate from a University, often bought, or given in anticipation of money and other forms of favours to the university, one begins to prefix one’s name with “Dr”! Even illiterates do that – leaving those who actually read upto PhD level at a loss whether to prefix their names with “Dr” or write PhD after their names. But I digress.
So, what did Ortom do when Akume accused him of parading a fake PhD?
Surprise, suprise. Instead of forcefully defending his “PhD,” thus protecting his intergrity, he reciprocated in kind. He called Akume a Drunk.
Responding through his Adviser on Media and ICT, Tahav Agerzua, Ortom said: “Akume is not an accreditation authority, and he cannot speak on that. In any case, that has no basis because PhD is not a pre-requisite for governorship. So, it is a diversionary tactic.” Then, he gave Akume the upper-cut: “Everybody knows that he is a drunk. What he said stems out of his drunkenness. He is not someone to be taken seriously.”
Just look at these guys, our leaders. So, both knew each other’s very dark sides and covered- up till now. One, the governor, is allegedly parading a fake certificate, and the other, the Senator, is an alleged drunk. And these are those moulding the character of our youths, our future leaders. They are their role-models. They are those calling the shots in Benue State.
The questions are: When did Akume know that Ortom is parading a fake PhD certificate? And why did he not speak up untill now? It is easy, of course, to dismiss it as bad belle, which really it is, but does Ortom have a PhD or not? If not, why is he flaunting it? What value does it add to him? He requires only a School Certificate to be a governor. His Media Adviser missed the point when he said “PhD is not a pre-requisite” to be governor. Correct. But, if his Principal does not have it, why add it? If he does not require it to be governor, why parade it? It is dishonest. And a mark of inferiority complex.
Since his media adviser has danced around the allegation, instead of giving us a direct answer, I submit that we are entitled to the truth. Governor Ortom should clear the air. And there is a consolation here for Ortom: If his PhD is not fake, he has a good reason to sue Akume for everything he has got. If, however, it is fake, he should drop the PhD quickly and apologise to his people and the academic community.
For the records, if Akume’s allegation is true, Ortom is not the first, nor would he be the last to flaunt fake certificates. We have a couple of high profile politicians in this country, parading fake certificates – academic and none academic –still calling the shots. And even though the truth is public, it is business as usual. But we can start somewhere.
Not less serious is Ortom’s allegation that Akume is a drunk. It is important because here is a man who was a state governor for eight years and, if whispers from the National Assembly is anything to go by, he had aspired, and is still aspiring to be the Senate President. Given this allegation, it will be interesting to know, during his years as a governor, which decisions he took while allegedly drunk and, those he took while sober. These are the two leaders – an alleged drunk and, an alleged fake PhD holder – bequeathed on Benue people by an untidy electoral process which is incapable of either confirming people’s certificates or investigating their life style.
If these two men were not now quarrelling over spoils of office, nobody would have seen their under-belly. It says something about our political leaders. We know them only when they fall out with each other, particularly, when a godson falls out with a godfather. It is a big problem.
Most times, political godfathers never give their political sons a breathing space. Anyone they install, they find faults with sooner than later. And I have two good examples here – former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Since Obasanjo left office, none of his successors, to him, has been any good. Incidentally, he helped install them. Late President Umaru Shehu Yar’Adua, President Goodluck Jonathan. And now, President Muhammadu Buhari. For Tinubu, according to well reported stories, he had problems with his hand-picked successor, Babatunde Fashola and now, he is having problems with another of his hand-picked governor, Akinwunmi Ambode.
Something must be wrong somewhere. Is it a question of both men being control freaks or, a question of their political sons deliberately denying them of the respect, rights and privileges they ought to accord them as former leaders and their acclaimed political godfathers? We need a research to know the answer and, to ultimately solve the problem. In not a few states, the problems between political godfathers and their political sons have stalled developments and, endangered lives. What is wrong with our leaders?
But back to Akume and Ortom. Both owe Benue state explanations and apologies for their utterances and bad behaviour. The people cannot have an alleged drunk and an alleged fake certificate holder as their leaders and not be ashamed.
I am, on their behalf.
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