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God asked me to recover the money Suswam stole from Benue - Ortom

Written By Idoma Television on Saturday, November 14, 2015 | 6:25:00 AM

Suswam must explain where Benue’s money is - Ortom
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State explains in this interview how he started his ‘divine’ gubernatorial campaign with less than N3 million, the difficult he encountered to become governor and sheds light on why he must probe his predecessor to recover allegedly stolen funds to better the lot of the state. Excerpts:

Governor Samuel Ortom

Daily Trust: How and when did you receive the call to become governor of Benue?
Dr. Samuel Ortom: This call was in 1992 while I served as chairman of Guma local government area. I had the inspiration after prayers that one day I would become governor of Benue State. I did not keep it to myself, I voiced it out and those around me then can testify that I said it. And then, it was instructive for me to be diligent, disciplined and to get closer to God so that I would prepare towards it. And I kept faith from 1992 to 2012 when God finally told me that the anointing I received to become the governor of Benue State was going to materialise in 2015. That was precisely 20 years after I received the call. I went into fasting and prayer and God assured me to go ahead. And I took time to wait on God. And it was instructive during this waiting that I should look unto God, I should not create enemies, I should not fight on my own, I should allow God to lead me through. I should not go ahead of God’s direction, I should wait. And that was why my campaign was very unique. I was not violent and I did not use money because I did not even have it. God told me that He was going to provide all that was needed to prosecute my election. And truly, God did it, because even as a minister, it was pretty difficult even trying to conduct my official duties more so that I was in a ministry where there was no capital project and even overheads. Most times I had to fall back on friends and fall back on my personal resources to sustain myself. So, by the time I was leaving office on the 20th of October, 2014, the total money I had on me was less than N3 million. But I came home, believing and trusting God that He would see me through. And today, I give glory to God that despite all the intimidation and manipulations from the powers that be, God was able to lead me and eventually when it became obvious that I was going to be denied the ticket in PDP, even though more than 70 percent of the PDP supporters were supporting my gubernatorial ambition, the leadership of the party under Gabriel Suswam said that over his dead body would I be governor.

DT: You are already six months in office, how would you describe your experience so far and do you miss anything about PDP?
Ortom: Well, I would say that when I left the PDP, it was mass exodus from the PDP to APC. Everywhere we went, people came in their numbers to join me. So, most of the people that I would have been missing in PDP are here with me in APC. I have not really missed my former party because they threw me away and the APC took me. And one thing I must appreciate about the APC family is that before Senator (George) Akume left PDP, we were all together. And so, it’s like a complete family. That was why I was able to join them at that shortest time, put myself together and reconcile with both those in the PDP and the APC. So, it’s been a wonderful experience. The truth is that from 1992 to date, God had adequately prepared me as a politician, as a grassroots man and has given me the experience and the necessary contacts. I have been a local government chairman, I have been party administrator at the state level for several years, I have been party administrator at the national level, then minister.  And through this period, I had passed through pain. I dropped out of school but by the grace of God, I am educated today. I started work as a motor park tout and by the grace of God, see where I am today. So, I have passed through poverty, ignorance, disease and they are not good things to think about and this is what I seek to eradicate in Benue State.  Today, the total money we get cannot pay salary of staff. So, it is a cause to worry and that is why we are working round the clock to ensure that we boost our internally generated revenue. We have just inaugurated the board of Benue State Internal Revenue Service and we intend to take off from there. We are targeting about N1.5 billion every month. And we believe that once that is done, we will be able to take care of other activities. For the first time in Benue State, we met not just an empty treasury but a deficit treasury. So far, what we have been able to verify is over N169 billion and salaries, pensions and gratuity alone is N69 billion. The federal government has given us a bailout of N28 billion which we are paying to workers, but it is not free money, it is not a grant.  These are resources that ordinarily, if we are borrowing money, it should have gone into productive sector where jobs would be created, where wealth would be created, where opportunities would be created for our people. And today, we are paying this N28 billion because the past government refused to pay these people. And it is unfortunate that throughout that time, the people did not stand up against the government. But I don’t blame them because there was so much deceit from that government. It was difficult and that was why the people of Benue State prompted me that I must check what went wrong with monies that came to Benue State from 2007 to 2015. Where is the SURE-P money that came in billions? Shares in Benue Cement worth N8.3 billion that were sold without even the approval of the house of assembly. Shares in Julius Berger amounting to N1.2 billion which were sold, where is the money? Monies that were collected when teachers were on strike which is over N18 billion, where is the money? Monies that were collected as bonds from the past government amounting to N18 billion we are still paying up till now as I speak to you. It is a financial burden on the state’s resources from the federation account to the tune of over half a billion naira every month. Where is the excess crude money that came to Benue State or where was it expended? It’s clear that it was diverted into private pockets. And I am saying that as a man who fears God and someone who has promised the people of the state that I would be transparent, there would be fairness, equity, justice, discipline and integrity in my government. Instead of arbitrarily going after people and arresting or prosecuting them, I have provided a platform through the judicial panel of inquiry to verify income and expenditure of government from 2007 to 2015.  And the second panel that I set up was to verify the assets of government. As at today, there is no record to show that this is what we have in Kaduna or Lagos or Abuja and so on, as assets. That is what led to our setting up these panels. But to my surprise, the former governor went to court to stop the process … I held a stakeholders meeting of Benue state where PDP and APC members were in attendance with traditional rulers and all stakeholders. And all of them, including PDP members, told me that they want to know where their money is. They said Suswam cannot come and wreck the state through that kind of massive looting. So, this is what we intend to do. It is after the report of these panels that we can now make a case whether to prosecute or to recover the monies from whosoever is involved. I heard the former governor accusing me and my government for his woes. We have not reported the former governor to EFCC or ICPC. We have the capacity to do it and the records are there but we are taking our time. And I think that it would be more proper for him to repent and seek for forgiveness so that the people of Benue will forgive him, especially when he makes restitution.

DT: Would you be probing Suswam as you are doing now If he had supported you to win the election on the platform of PDP?
Ortom: I have said repeatedly that Samuel Ortom knows where he is coming from; my victory is dedicated to Almighty God. I have often stated it clearly that I will govern with the fear of God, I will be truthful, ensure equity, fairness and justice. And so I will do the right thing. If Suswam had given me mandate, I would still do the right thing because it is God that gave me victory … So, I’m here to execute the counsel of God over the land of Benue and that is what I’m doing. That is why all lies about me, clandestine meetings being held to tarnish my image or to paint me black cannot stand. We are not afraid of their antics because that is what they have been doing even when they were here. They only tell you people (journalists) lies. Did the former governor not come out through his media adviser to deny that shares in Benue Cement were sold?

DT: There is this assertion that a lot of born again Christians like you who venture into politics do not come out clean at the end of the day. What has been you experience?
Ortom: When people say that I don’t blame them because I was once affected. It was a long time ago but experience is the best teacher and I honestly appreciate God. It is for the mercies of God that I’m here today and still a Christian because in 1992 when I became born again, I started well and along the line I drifted. It was because of the fear of brethren who were Christians coming into the murky waters of politics, we were isolated such that all around us were people who did not believe in what God was doing. So somehow, I backslid which goes to prove that the fear of some people is right but God in his mercy who saw that my heart was clean opened my eyes to retrace my footsteps. Since then, I have become so close to Him as long as I remain on the righteous side with God, nothing can harm me … When God directs your paths, you can never be found wanting, God will surely direct you to do the right thing at all times. I have not only being deep into politics but I’m also deep into the church as an elder, worker in my Redeemed Christian Church of God and God has been merciful unto me.

DT: How do you presently combine your role as husband, father and grandfather to still relate with your family given your tight schedule?
Ortom: It is quite tasking. I must appreciate my wife and I honestly appreciate my children for their understanding. You can see that it is already past mid-night that we are having this interview. It is quite stressful that when one gets to the house, a host of people would still be waiting there and in the morning, there is no longer privacy. Sometimes, I don’t even see my children. My wife is a very great partner and supporter; once in a while she is concerned that I’m not finding time to rest. I appreciate her for taking very good care of me, she has become my medical doctor, nurse, wife and mother. My children are quite understanding. I have 10 children and if one of them were wayward, it would be a source of worry such that it would have affected my job as a politician and administrator.
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