Buhari vs Ortom: A battle of minions

Ahead of the 2015 general election, President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State were quite chummy. Then they had a common foe, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Buhari was determined to unseat Goodluck Jonathan, the then President, while Ortom was bent on winning the governorship of Benue State. Ortom left Jonathan’s government and dumped the PDP when he was denied the party’s governorship ticket to pitch his tent with Buhari’s All Progressives Party (APC). The two of them won their elections and their friendship blossomed until serial clashes between herders and farmers resulting in the killing of the locals put a wedge between them, leading to the governor dumping APC and returning to the PDP.

While rationalizing his exit from the APC, Ortom said, “We had to abandon that platform in search of one that offers more accommodation and support for our policies, especially the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017.”

The governor also stated that some top shots in the Buhari administration attempted to frustrate the Open Grazing Prohibition law aimed at finding lasting peace between farmers and herders in the state, adding that, “Such frustrating efforts by highly placed members of the federal government necessitated my exit from the party to one that will not compromise our stance on a matter so key to the Benue people.”

Since Ortom’s exit from the party, the hostility between the governor and the presidency has gone up an octave. While the governor is frustrated by the Presidency’s seeming lethargic approach to putting an end to the clashes and killings in Benue, the presidency is exasperated by the governor’s apparent distaste for the Federal Government’s preferred solution to the herders-farmers problem which is the perpetuation of open grazing. The governor has repeatedly laid the blame of killings in his state at the feet of the Federal Government, not only accusing the government at the centre of incompetence but also alluding to its complicity.

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The friction between Ortom and the Federal Government got to a head this past week when the governor, while featuring on a Channels Television programme, accused the president of a Fulanisation agenda and decked him with the title of the worst president the country has ever had with respect to security. This gnawed the presidency and it wasted no time in issuing a retaliatory press statement. Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to the President, who signed the statement, accused the governor of playing the ethnic card “to boost his sinking political fortunes.” He alleged that Ortom was using the language employed by Hutu leaders in Rwanda to incite the country against the Tutsi to set Benue citizens against one another.

Not to be outdone, Ortom also issued a statement the following day asking Nigerians to call the President to order.

This is really an unfortunate situation. It is a sad commentary on the leadership quality of our nation. The two principal actors in this debacle were elected to improve the lot of the people, not to go for each other’s throat. So, they should ask themselves how their altercations have solved the problem or improved the lot of the people. What has changed since the presidency and Ortom have taken up arms? Have the killings stopped? Have the attacks abated? Instead, the situation has been escalating. So bad has it gotten that there was an attempt on the life of the governor. So, shouldn’t this have made it clear to the antagonists that vitriolic attacks against each other is not the solution to the raiding, maiming and killing in the land?

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The call of leaders is to solve problems, leaders don’t look for fall guys, they solve problems. Leaders don’t dodge their problems, instead they proffer solutions to them. Leaders don’t chase shadows, they attack their problems headlong. My guess is that Benue State governor derives pleasure in always attacking the president because he is overwhelmed by the problem in his state. So, to disguise his ineptitude, he has turned president-bashing into a culture. The same goes for the presidency. The President is so stuck in his ways that he cannot fathom any solution to the herders/farmers problem outside reclaiming the lost grazing routes. As far as Mr President is concerned, the country has to step back into the 1950s and 1960s to find a solution to a 21st century problem.

In my reckoning, both the Benue State governor and President Buhari have resorted to the easier option of verbal attack and media war because they cannot challenge themselves to think outside the box to solve the problem. Those who are strong in the deployment of the intellect do not seek refuge in verbal attacks. As bad as the security situation in the country is, it is possible to put it behind us. If Rwanda, which was involved in a terrible genocidal war about 25 years ago is now the African poster boy for peace, progress and prosperity, the Nigerian case is not beyond redemption. But for that to happen, we need thinking, purposeful and determine leader, not those who will be hurling insults at one another.

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When Hannibal, the Carthaginian general, who commanded the Carthaginian forces against Rome in the Second Punic War, was told by his lieutenants that it was impossible to cross the Alps by elephant, he told them that he would either find a way or make one. He never surrendered to difficulty; he never bowed to impossibility. That is the stuff great leaders are made of. Albert Einstein said we can never solve a problem by the same level of understanding that produced it. This means our thinking has to be above our challenge to turn it around. The warring president and the combatant governor have not taken their thinking beyond the circumstances that created the problem. So, they are dancing round the problem.

A leader either takes his people to his level or reduces them to his level. When a country is led by great people, the country moves into greatness, but when a country’s leaders are minions, the country slides into problem, penury and peril. Great is the pain of a people led by minions. Sadly, that is the tale of Nigeria.

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