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ORTOM: Taking His Place In the Hall of Fame

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BY Simon Imobo-Tswam

When Samuel Ioraer “Ukeaernyi” Ortom took office as the executive governor of Benue state in 2015, he had no desire to be anything than a governor i.e. Do his best in terms of promise-keeping, and if he persuaded himself that he had done a job deserving of tenure elongation, seek a second term. But none of can tell what is in the womb of time, and so none of us can predict what tomorrow may bring to/for us or what destiny may have in store for us.

Today, Gov. Ortom is a second-term governor, but more than this, he has become the champion of Nigeria’s democracy, the one-man bulwark against oligarchic forces and the “Defender of the Benue Valley.” He is also now being called Nigeria’s voice of reason, the mobilizer of democratic forces  and the voice of the minorities.

In speaking for the minorities, Ortom does no novel thing. His distant predecessor, His Excellency,  Gov. Apollos Aper Aku, did this before, forging close links with the Clement Nyong Isongs, the Patrick Anis and the Melford Obiene Okilos under the auspices of the 4th Force. It was during this time that on Aug. 4, 1982, at ABU, Zaria, he shocked Nigeria, especially the NPN oligarchs, with his revolutionary proposal of Power-Rotation and the Six Geo-political Zones!

And before the revered Aku, the venerated Joseph Tarkaa did this: mobilizing minority peoples of the Benue Valley and beyond, and speaking for them. Beginning in the late 50s, and until the 80s, Tarka built political bridges with the Aminu Kanos, the Kashim Ibrahims, the Joseph Wayases, the Egbert Udoma Udomas and the Harrold Jenewari Dappa-Biriyes.

And after Aku, Gov. Gabriel Suswam followed the beaten path by befriending the Emmanuel Gabriel Udoms the Goodluck Jonathans and the Nyesom Wikes.

So, Gov. Ortom is walking a well-travelled path, in amplifying the pained voice of the Oppressed. But Ortom has brought another dimension to it: where Tarkaa and Aku spoke for the minorities, especially those in the Middle Belt, Ortom has expanded the scope, stepped up the game, and is now speaking for Igbo people of the South-East and wait for it: the entire Southern states too!

It took his courage, candour, consistency  and clarity of messaging to rouse Southern governors as well as their Northern counterparts and their thoroughly terrorised peoples from uncommon slumber. Today, the lone voice has become a national chorus; and the lone man, who was crying himself hoarse in the political wilderness of the Benue Trough, is today a national opinion leader; one to whom the governors and the peoples of Nigeria are looking up to for leadership and direction … on the way forward.

For a man who only sought to just be the governor of Benue state, these epaulets of promotions and the garlands of national adulation must be turns of pleasant surprises.

Hate him or love him, be you a hailer or a wailer, you must agree that Ortom has become the Face of the democratic and republican Nigeria: a free and just Nigeria where all are free before the law; an equal opportunity Nigeria where no one is a first-class citizen or second-class citizen simply on account of his ethnicity, language, attire, mode of worship and region.

He is not the president of Nigeria (and he as yet has no presidential ambition), but history has taught us you don’t need a great throne to do great things; and that you don’t need to be a great man to do great things. This why the the  Revd. Martin Luther King still tells us from the grave: “The time is always right to do what is right.”

For Ortom, that time is now. And in this elected path of the moral high ground, Ortom is walking with a number of ordinary and not-so-ordinary people who, through acts of uncommon courage, uncommon will and uncommon vision, have taken their places in Hall of Fame.

1. Lt. Col. Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov:
(The man who ‘saved’ the world)
Col. Yevgrafovich Petrov, a Russian, was born on 7th September, 1939, in Vladivostok, USSR, and died on 19th May, 2017, in Fryazino, Russia.

He was an officer in the Soviet Air Defence Forces, and played the heroic role in the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident when the world teetered on the brink. On 26th September 1983, just three weeks after the USSR had shot down Korean Air Liner, Petrov was the duty officer at the Oko nuclear early-warning system when the system gave a false that the US has launched missiles against the Soviet homeland.

Judging the system reports to be false alarms, he disobey the standing orders to report same to the highest echelons of authority, who would automatically have ordered a retaliation. In placing human lives over rigid military orders and soviet nationalism, Petrov prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the US and her NATO allies, thus taking his place in the Hall of Fame. Lesson to soldiers: Place humanity above rigid orders or narrow-nationalism.

2. Abraham Lincoln
(The man who saved America).

Abraham Lincoln is a well-known global figure. Even if he didn’t become an American president, even before he came president, his serial electoral, medical and business failures or breakdowns had guaranteed him a place in history – man is obsessed with celebrating the failures of others!

Abraham Lincoln was born on 12th February,  1809, in Sinking Spring Farm, Kentucky, U.S., and was assassinsted on 15th April, 1865, in
Washington, D.C.

When he took over as the 16th American president on 4th March, 1861, the country was on the brink! There was social, economic and political discontent arising majorly from slaveholding in the South. As one American historian, Ted strong, has noted, “Northerners were fighting to preserve the Union, southerners to preserve slavery.”

And Robert S. McElvaine of the
The Baltimore Sun has added: “Slavery was the raison d’etre of the Confederacy (the Southern States). The ‘Liberty’ they sought to preserve was the LIBERTY to OWN HUMAN BEINGS!” (Emphasis, mine).

The issue had pushed the US to the crossroads, dividing the country into two halves; and the task of uniting the republic fell on the shoulders of this very ordinary-looking commander-in-chief, a man who had suffered a nervous breakdown not too far back.

On 1st January, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, making the abolition of slavery, as well as the preservation of the Union a war aim.

In other words, when the issue of slavery, as important as it was to the economy of the Southern States – when it threatened the corporate existence of the Union, the president, with a pan-American vision, put his presidential foot down!

And the President Lincoln was presidential: he didn’t equivocate, euphemize or perfume the issue. In 1862, he was declared that “slavery is the root of the rebellion!” And he urged the citizens to defend “a new birth of freedom” and to stand up for democracy to the intent that: “the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The President of the Republic used his office to unite the country and preserve  her corporate existence – no matter the vested interests at stake.

3. Mamoudou Gassama, according to Wikipedia, was born in 1996, and is a Malian-French citizen.
He was born in Mali, but travelled to Europe via Burkina Faso, Niger and Libya, suffering torture and perils on the way. He crossed the Mediterranean and obtained legal residency in Italy. In September 2017, he crossed over to France to join an elder brother.

It was while living in Paris, on fringes of society, that on 26th May, 2018, climbed four stories, on the exterior of a block of flats in the 18th arrondissement of Paris (51 rue Marx-Dormoy) in a record 30 seconds to save a four-year-old boy who was hanging from a balcony.

It would later be known that the boy’s father had left his son unattended and gone shopping!

In aftermath of his heroic act, it is reported that the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, called Gassama “Spider-Man of the 18th” – refering to the district where the rescue took place. And on 28th May 2018, President Emmanuel Macron invited him to the Élysée Palace and awarded him the “Médaille d’honneur,” and offered him a job with the fire service. And in September 2018, he was granted French citizenship.

LESSONS: Gassama, elevated human life over and above everything else. He is a muslim, but at that moment, life was life – Muslim, Christian, Animist, Atheist, Hindu, Bhudhist, Voodooist…it didn’t matter to him. He told himself: “Life is sacred. And blood has no tribal marks or religion.”
His humanity speaks to every human being!

We can go on and on. We can mention Charles De Gaulle, we can mention Nelson Mandela and many others who never took the high office, but did many high and noble things.
And why these great souls did noble things, there were small men who dealt them the cards of distraction via treachery, discouragement and betrayal.

That is what Ortom faces today: hordes of traitors, a clan of Judases, accomplished hypocrites and consolidated liars!

But he trudges on, without looking back! Mandela didn’t look back. And he walks a beaten path: Abraham Lincoln did not look  back. And neither did Yevgrafovich Petrov nor Martin Möeller.

Benedict Arnold:
I end this piece with the inglorious story of the greatest traitor in American history: Benedict Arnold. He was the general who sold his Homeland for $6000!

Benedict Arnold was born on 14th Jan., 1741, in Norwich, Connecticut. He was in the merchant navy and when the revolutionary war began in 1775, he joined the Continental Army. And through acts of intelligence and  bravery, he was promoted to the rank of major-general.

Greedy for power, recognition and honour, Arnold repeatedly complained that he was being passed in promotion exercises by the Continental Congress.

For a promise of £20,000, Gen. Arnold and a co-traitor, André, agreed to surrender West Point, a major American stronghold, to the British! Gen. George Washington, who mistook him for a patriot, gave him command of the fort in July 1780.

Seeing it as an opportunity to make money and get Honours from the enemy, Arnold quickly opened negotiations with the British to surrender the fort. You may say “Once a trader, always a trader!” His fellow-traitor, André, was captured with  the “contract papers” in September 1780 by vigilant Continental forces, and promptly executed!

Arnold, however, escaped to the British side – receiving commission in the Colonial Army!
But wait for this! From a Maj.-General, Arnold was downgraded to a Brigadier! And instead of the handsome  £20,000 that was negotiated, the British gave him a paltry £6,000!

Arnold, who only a few months back was fighting for American Independence, started leading British forces to raid and kill his fellow-countrymen in Richmond and other nearby areas. But worse than this, he led the burning down of New London, Connecticut; even slaughtering his countrymen who had surrendered after the Battle of Groton Heights!

Groton Heights, it must be mentioned, was just a few miles from the town where Arnold  had grown up as a child! In essence, he helped foreigners from another country and continent to visit death and destruction upon his own people, turning the survivors into hapless Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs)!

But even the British didn’t trust him: A traitor is a slippery character unworthy of trust! And so, in 1782, he and his English wife, Peggy, moved to London, England. Although he was received honourably by King George III and the ruling Tories, this intercontinental traitor was despised by the English nobility and the military establishment.

In 1787, he moved to Canada with two of his sons, Richard and Henry, start a trading business there, but he met with spectacular business failure!

Extremely unpopular there and facing certain bankruptcy, he returned to London permanently in 1791, dying 10 years later.

1. Every Judas who places silver coins over and above blood ties will always commit suicide – be it somatic suicide, political suicide, social suicide, class suicide etc.
2. No one is greater than the community. In some cultures, it is called Tyó Hemba or Or Hembe Tyó ga.
3. A traitor has no honour, net, net: Those whom he betrays give him the respect usually accorded vermin; and those to whom he betrays his people consider him a sub-human creature! (Who will blame them? Which normal human being betrays his people for silver shekels, promotion or recognition?).

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