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Recollections: Time Flies And Changes Everything

Nyitse
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Tivlumun Gabriel Nyitse was former Bureau Chief of the defunct “National Concord” Newspapers in-charge of the North Central and North East zones, with headquarters in Jos, Plateau State.

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He was subsequently Editor of the Benue State-owned “The Voice” newspapers and thereafter Managing Editor of the Benue Printing and Publishing Corporation, (BPPC).

He served as Permanent Secretary for: Establishment; Information and Culture; and Government House Administration, variously and respectively, all in Benue State Civil Service.

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He holds a doctorate in Mass Communication and took up appointment as a Lecturer at Bingham University, Karu, near Abuja, in 2016, years after his retirement from the civil service.

He was a Senior Lecturer in the University before his appointment as Chief of Staff to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, November 22, 2021.

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As he marks his first year on the job, he shares his experiences working at close quarters with the fourth in the line of military and civilian governors he has served, in his state.

By Tivlumun Nyitse

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On Monday November 22, 2021, in the new capacity-filled Banquet Hall of the Government House Makurdi, I took the oath of office, as Chief of Staff, (COS), to Samuel Ortom, Governor of Benue State.

It was administered by the governor and I assumed office as his new COS. I succeeded the former holder of the office who had resigned his appointment to run for the governorship of the state, ahead of the 2023 general elections.

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The event marked my third tour of duty at the Benue State Government, House Makurdi. I had previously served as the Director of Press/Chief Press Secretary under the military administrations of Group Captain Joshua Obademi, and Col. Aminu Isa Kontagora (of blessed memory), between 1993 and 1999.

I had equally functioned as Permanent Secretary, Government House Administration, (PS-GHA) for almost seven years under the administration of former Governor Gabriel Torwua Suswam, who now a Senator of the Federal Republic. I operated in this capacity from June 2007 to January 2014.

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It is imperative to lay this background to foreground the fact that I have, over the years, garnered the cognate exposure and experience in the workings of government, within the Government House system.

With such aggregated insights, many people around me spontaneously assumed that my brief as the COS, the to-go person, to the governor will be a walk in the park. How very wrong they were!

Advertisement

Samuel Ortom emerged victorious in the gubernatorial election of 2015. It was a classic manifestation of what pentecostals will describe as “God ordering one’s steps.”

Ortom participated in the primary of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), which produced Terhemen Tazoor as the party’s flagbearer. I also aspired to be governor under the same party, but lost at the primary election.
Ortom believed he was unjustly treated in the primary where he emerged third, behind former Deputy Governor, Stephen Lawani. He thus crossed over to the All Progressives Congress, (APC). He was embraced by his new political family and handed the governorship ticket.

Advertisement

Having previously retired from my position as permanent secretary from the Benue State Civil Service, l left the state to join the services of the Bingham University, Karu, Nasarawa State in 2016.

It was an opportunity to pursue a residual interest which I had nursed over the years, as an academic. I remained an active member of the PDP and one of the major stakeholders and elders of the party, nonetheless.

Advertisement

This prominence was duly conferred on me as a former frontline governorship aspirant and a loyal party member. Indeed, in the build up to the 2019 governorship elections, I was pressured to aspire once again to the governorship.

While I made the “consultation” rounds, Ortom crossed over to the PDP, convinced the APC government at the centre was not doing enough to check recurring herdsmen’s invasions in Benue State.

Advertisement

Nigeria’s political tradition provides that if an incumbent holder of office crosses over to a new party, he is automatically granted the right of first refusal to any office he aspires to, in the new party. To this extent, Ortom was vested with the governorship ticket of the PDP.

Sometime in October 2021, Governor Ortom reached out to me. We had a conversation on the need for me to come back to the state and work with him as his COS.

Advertisement

My first reaction was to ask him for some time to reflect on his proposition. After poring through some considerations, I honoured the invitation. Among other things, Ortom and I had worked together on some political projects before in Guma local government area, (LGA), where we both come from.

Secondly, while we all aspired to the governorship position, we remained very cordial and held each other in high very regards. Therefore the decision to accept the was easy to make.

Advertisement

Some people who didn’t understand my position felt I should have rejected the offer. Others applauded my humility in leaving my new love, the academia, to assist my brother in the home stretch of his service to our people.

Understandably, local lore has described my inauguration on November 22, 2021, as the most-attended in a Government House facility, in ages.

Advertisement

Working with Governor Samuel Ortom in the last twelve months has been a potpourri of experiences in leadership and human resource management. It has been a new journey in work ethics and a complete curriculum in the new dynamism of political engineering processes.

One is not really surprised that Ortom presents an enigmatic and novel dynamism in the running of government business because of his experiences in life which he is quick to share at any prompting.

Advertisement

Governor Ortom is a case study in dogged determination and raw courage to change the course of his destiny. His street-wise philosophy and deep religious beliefs, are manifest in his day-to-day chores.

To refresh our memories, not many Nigerians would do what Ortom did on the floor of the “red chambers” of the Nigerian Senate in 2011, when he was screened by the Senate following his nomination as minister, by the then president, Goodluck Jonathan.

Advertisement

Ortom while introducing himself on live television, told the whole world that he started life as motor park tout! As at when he was being screened, however, he was proud to hold a doctorate degree!

Most people with his kind of background would have tried to deodorize their past, to make it smell nice. I have, since assumption of duty as his Chief of Staff, become a student of renewed humility.

Advertisement

I had, hitherto, ascribed this toga to myself, but in Ortom I have probably found a much humbler personality. Here is a governor who is quick to apologise to his lowest of subordinates whenever he feels that his actions towards such staff or associates, were untoward.

He’s not one of those who carries a chip on their shoulders. But behind this gentle and humble mien is a leader with a strong character and very deep in reilgious philosophy.

Advertisement

I have always wondered where Ortom gets the energy to discharge the daunting task of governing a complex state like Benue. Ours is a state with very poor revenue base, almost 90% dependent on the federation account.

We are contending with ethnic suspicion between the major ethnic groups in the state, while also managing an agitated pension populations. The civil service is restive, with a predilection for threats to down tools, at the slightest opportunity.

Advertisement

Ortom has indeed demonstrated monstrous energy as the helmsman. He is one governor I have observed at very close quarters who has the capacity to hold a dozen meetings in one day without showing any sign of mental or physical fatigue.

In the activities preceding the PDP primary elections in the state, he exhibited such elasticity of stamina and capacity. I was an active participant in the processes by virtue of my position as his COS.

Advertisement

As the leader of the party in the state the buck stops on his table. He would never allow complaints from any of the local governments to fester, unresolved. Ortom never slept on any contentious issues brought before him.

Ortom would hold meetings up to 3am and he will be the first to resume work at 7am! On some occasions, he would indeed be observing spiritual procedures such as fasting and praying, during which he abstained from his meals. I recall an incident during one of those days of winding up late at work.

Advertisement

We left the government house after 2am with a charge to reconvene at 7am, to resolve some issues concerning both the Guma state constituency and the Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency. Since we closed late, I took liberty to resume work by 8am. I miscalculated.

By the time I got to the Government House, the governor had already resumed and was rounding up another meeting which was not originally scheduled!

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And in spite of all these, he never betrayed any sign of drudgery. Ortom is indeed a bundle of energy. At slightly over sixty years of age, his energy level is exceptional.

In a lighter mood, just as governor Ortom works very hard he also doesn’t joke with his meal regimen. Meet him at lunch time and you will agree that he’s got a very healthy appetite.

Advertisement

Instructively, he probably eats just one major meal once in a day, filling in with fruits and vegetables.

Like I earlier indicated, I have worked with a number of governors both of the military hue, and the democratically elected. I declare emphatically that Governor Ortom’s memory is sharp and pointed.

Advertisement

His capacity to recall issues, no matter how long in time they occurred, has continued to amaze me. He has a way especially with figures.

His early experiences in life at the Gboko motor park where the existential credo was that of “dog eat dog,” where people had to be eagle-eyed must have bred this attribute.

Advertisement

That apart though, Ortom before becoming governor of Benue State was an astute businessman whose interests spanned printing, manufacturing, farming, agro-business value chain and real estate.

To this extent, he kept tabs on the numbers and figures emanating from these various business fronts. No matter how tired or distracted he appears to be, Ortom’s capacity for recall is one-of-a-kind.

Advertisement

His antenna instantaneously switches to the “alert” mode, especially when figures are concerned. If you take a memo to him, the first thing he looks at will be the figures.

This may probably be because he doesn’t seem to be in love with very bulky documents. He prefers verbal briefs which speak to the issues
and he listens to every detail while taking mental notes.

Advertisement

As a corollary to his virile cognitive capacity, Ortom often gives multiple appointments and remembers them all the following day.

In his own way, he schedules them accordingly, doing so most times without the assistance of his protocol staff, even if they are within earshot.

Advertisement

Ortom is a very firm and fervid believer in God. He is eternally grateful to his Creator for his progress to contemporary prominence, with the hindsight of his very modest beginnings.

Even if I had a hint of this before, working at close quarters with him has further enlightened me. His principles, beliefs and work ethic are derived from the teachings of the Holy Book.

Advertisement

His grasp of the Bible is such that he quotes sections of it with effortless ease, while elucidating issues.

He describes himself as a mentee of “King David.” In line with his faith, Ortom reckoned that the state should have a distinct anthem of its own.
This became germane after the public dedication of the state to God. The state anthem which is also and adoption and adaptation of a Christian song, was submitted to the state House of Assembly and passed in to law.
Governor Ortom also ensures that prayers are offered before he leaves Government House to attend any engagement outside the state capital and on return. Most times, he leads these prayers.

Advertisement

Even as one from Guma LGA which is one of the frontline sections of the state most affected by the incessant attacks, one never really appreciated the magnitude of the havoc and destruction caused by serial herders attacks on the people of the state.

In the last five years, massive killings by these marauding nomads have left at each attack a trail of grief and blood. Proof of these attacks and killings is the fact that about two million people including women and children are now sequestered in several camps for internally displaced persons, IDPs, across the state.

Advertisement

Each time there was an attack, Ortom was moved to wail and lament over the massive killings and the destruction of farm lands by these AK-47-wielding herdsmen.

Non-residents of Benue, people who have not had the opportunity to visit and see things for themselves, or who have deliberately refused to empathize with the governor, sadly mock him.

Advertisement

Nigerians have indeed lost their sense of humanity. Indeed, the effects of the atrocities of these gun-totting herders on the economy of the state, is best imagined.

Amidst these challenges which have completely ravaged and destroyed the agrarian economy of Benue State, Ortom has recorded significant, albeit silent achievements in critical areas of the economy.

Advertisement

These cannot be wished away even by his worst enemies. One never personally conceived of these striking efforts, especially in urban renewal untill I came to work closely with him.

Considering the savagery visited on the state and the destruction of the very fabric of its economy, agriculture, Ortom has performed very well.

Advertisement

If assessed objectively and without politicisation, he should be ranked among the top five performing state governors in Nigeria. And I say this without any fear of contradiction.

For example, sometime last year while commissioning township roads in Gboko, the national chairman of PDP, Iyorchia Ayu stated that, no governor in the history of Benue State has done the number and quality of roads Ortom has constructed in Gboko.

Advertisement

Same goes to Otukpo and of course, Makurdi, the Benue state capital. Here, Ortom has constructed over 50 kilometers of asphalted roads. Some of these were recently commissioned by his colleagues, the “G 5” governors.

They were in the state to lend their support at the flag off of the state campaigns for the 2023 general elections.

Advertisement

Very remarkable efforts too have been recorded in the areas of construction of rural roads, building of health clinics and the massive renovation of general hospitals across the state.

New equipment like the MRI and Dialysis machines have also been acquired for the Benue State University Teaching Hospital. A general facelift has also been given to decaying structures in the institution.

Advertisement

Unfortunately, Nigerian journalists have not been fair in reporting and acknowledging the achievements of the Ortom administration.

This is probably because Ortom has said on occasions, that he was “not interested in commissioning projects because of the massive cost of the ceremonies.”

Advertisement

He believes that funds for such fanfare can be channeled in the construction of salutary projects which can impact the generalityof the people.

Ortom’s endeavours, and indeed the advancement of Benue State post-2015, is best put into proper context, vis-a-vis the peculiar challenges and distractions of the state which has become the status quo.

Advertisement

After one year of working with Governor Ortom as his Chief of Staff, I can say it’s been a worthwhile experience thus far. Every opportunity or exposure one gets in life is a learning curve.

The vistas and insights garnered working with government at such close proximity are not the stuff of courses or textbooks in government, political science or public administration.

Advertisement

You have to be in the thick of it to appreciate that the line from point A to B, is not usually a straight one. Of course, like I said in my preliminary remarks, I am something of an “Emeritus” personnel of Government House.

I previously logged about 13 years in the hub of government administration, much as I’ve never been a Chief of Staff before now.

Advertisement

I owe Governor Ortom deserved gratitude for pulling me out of the university system which I was getting to love, to come and share in the present experience, and to be part of his “first eleven team.”

As his core personal aides, our duty is to support him to berth the ship of his administration, safely and soundly, after eight years of service to the good people of Benue State.

Advertisement

Let me sum up by saying that history will definitely record Ortom positively when the story of Benue State will be written. He will be adjudged to have come, seen and conquered.

Nyitse, PhD, journalist, administrator and communications scholar, is Chief of Staff to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.

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Opinion

RECOLLECTIONS: TIME FLIES AND CHANGES EVERYTHING

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*Tivlumun Gabriel Nyitse was former Bureau Chief of the defunct “National Concord” Newspapers in-charge of the North Central and North East zones, with headquarters in Jos, Plateau State. He was subsequently Editor of the Benue State-owned “The Voice” newspapers and thereafter Managing Editor of the Benue Printing and Publishing Corporation, (BPPC). He served as Permanent Secretary for: Establishment; Information and Culture; and Government House Administration, variously and respectively, all in Benue State Civil Service. He holds a doctorate in Mass Communication and took up appointment as a Lecturer at Bingham University, Karu, near Abuja, in 2016, years after his retirement from the civil service. He was a Senior Lecturer in the University before his appointment as Chief of Staff to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, November 22, 2021. As he marks his first year on the job, he shares his experiences working at close quarters with the fourth in the line of military and civilian governors he has served, in his state.*

 

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*By Tivlumun Nyitse, PhD*

On Monday November 22, 2021, in the new capacity-filled Banquet Hall of the Government House Makurdi, I took the oath of office, as Chief of Staff, (COS), to Samuel Ortom, Governor of Benue State. It was administered by the governor and I assumed office as his new COS. I succeeded the former holder of the office who had resigned his appointment to run for the governorship of the state, ahead of the 2023 general elections. The event marked my third tour of duty at the Benue State Government, House Makurdi. I had previously served as the Director of Press/Chief Press Secretary under the military administrations of Group Captain Joshua Obademi, and Col. Aminu Isa Kontagora (of blessed memory), between 1993 and 1999.

Advertisement

I had equally functioned as Permanent Secretary, Government House Administration, (PS-GHA) for almost seven years under the administration of former Governor Gabriel Torwua Suswam, who now a Senator of the Federal Republic. I operated in this capacity from June 2007 to January 2014. It is imperative to lay this background to foreground the fact that I have, over the years, garnered the cognate exposure and experience in the workings of government, within the Government House system. With such aggregated insights, many people around me spontaneously assumed that my brief as the COS, the to-go person, to the governor will be a walk in the park. How very wrong they were!

Samuel Ortom emerged victorious in the gubernatorial election of 2015. It was a classic manifestation of what pentecostals will describe as “God ordering one’s steps.” Ortom participated in the primary of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), which produced Terhemen Tazoor as the party’s flagbearer. I also aspired to be governor under the same party, but lost at the primary election. Ortom believed he was unjustly treated in the primary where he emerged third, behind former Deputy Governor, Stephen Lawani. He thus crossed over to the All Progressives Congress, (APC). He was embraced by his new political family and handed the governorship ticket.

Advertisement

Having previously retired from my position as permanent secretary from the Benue State Civil Service, l left the state to join the services of the Bingham University, Karu, Nasarawa State in 2016. It was an opportunity to pursue a residual interest which I had nursed over the years, as an academic. I remained an active member of the PDP and one of the major stakeholders and elders of the party, nonetheless. This prominence was duly conferred on me as a former frontline governorship aspirant and a loyal party member. Indeed, in the build up to the 2019 governorship elections, I was pressured to aspire once again to the governorship. While I made the “consultation” rounds, Ortom crossed over to the PDP, convinced the APC government at the centre was not doing enough to check recurring herdsmen’s invasions in Benue State. Nigeria’s political tradition provides that if an incumbent holder of office crosses over to a new party, he is automatically granted the right of first refusal to any office he aspires to, in the new party. To this extent, Ortom was vested with the governorship ticket of the PDP.

Sometime in October 2021, Governor Ortom reached out to me. We had a conversation on the need for me to come back to the state and work with him as his COS. My first reaction was to ask him for some time to reflect on his proposition. After poring through some considerations, I honoured the invitation. Among other things, Ortom and I had worked together on some political projects before in Guma local government area, (LGA), where we both come from. Secondly, while we all aspired to the governorship position, we remained very cordial and held each other in high very regards. Therefore the decision to accept the was easy to make. Some people who didn’t understand my position felt I should have rejected the offer. Others applauded my humility in leaving my new love, the academia, to assist my brother in the home stretch of his service to our people. Understandably, local lore has described my inauguration on November 22, 2021, as the most-attended in a Government House facility, in ages.

Advertisement

Working with Governor Samuel Ortom in the last twelve months has been a potpourri of experiences in leadership and human resource management. It has been a new journey in work ethics and a complete curriculum in the new dynamism of political engineering processes. One is not really surprised that Ortom presents an enigmatic and novel dynamism in the running of government business because of his experiences in life which he is quick to share at any prompting. Governor Ortom is a case study in dogged determination and raw courage to change the course of his destiny. His street-wise philosophy and deep religious beliefs, are manifest in his day-to-day chores. To refresh our memories, not many Nigerians would do what Ortom did on the floor of the “red chambers” of the Nigerian Senate in 2011, when he was screened by the Senate following his nomination as minister, by the then president, Goodluck Jonathan.

Ortom while introducing himself on live television, told the whole world that he started life as motor park tout! As at when he was being screened, however, he was proud to hold a doctorate degree! Most people with his kind of background would have tried to deodorize their past, to make it smell nice. I have, since assumption of duty as his Chief of Staff, become a student of renewed humility. I had, hitherto, ascribed this toga to myself, but in Ortom I have probably found a much humbler personality. Here is a governor who is quick to apologise to his lowest of subordinates whenever he feels that his actions towards such staff or associates, were untoward. He’s not one of those who carries a chip on their shoulders. But behind this gentle and humble mien is a leader with a strong character and very deep in reilgious philosophy.

Advertisement

I have always wondered where Ortom gets the energy to discharge the daunting task of governing a complex state like Benue. Ours is a state with very poor revenue base, almost 90% dependent on the federation account. We are contending with ethnic suspicion between the major ethnic groups in the state, while also managing an agitated pension populations. The civil service is restive, with a predilection for threats to down tools, at the slightest opportunity. Ortom has indeed demonstrated monstrous energy as the helmsman. He is one governor I have observed at very close quarters who has the capacity to hold a dozen meetings in one day without showing any sign of mental or physical fatigue. In the activities preceding the PDP primary elections in the state, he exhibited such elasticity of stamina and capacity. I was an active participant in the processes by virtue of my position as his COS. As the leader of the party in the state the buck stops on his table. He would never allow complaints from any of the local governments to fester, unresolved. Ortom never slept on any contentious issues brought before him.

Ortom would hold meetings up to 3am and he will be the first to resume work at 7am! On some occasions, he would indeed be observing spiritual procedures such as fasting and praying, during which he abstained from his meals. I recall an incident during one of those days of winding up late at work. We left the government house after 2am with a charge to reconvene at 7am, to resolve some issues concerning both the Guma state constituency and the Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency. Since we closed late, I took liberty to resume work by 8am. I miscalculated.

Advertisement

By the time I got to the Government House, the governor had already resumed and was rounding up another meeting which was not originally scheduled! And in spite of all these, he never betrayed any sign of drudgery. Ortom is indeed a bundle of energy. At slightly over sixty years of age, his energy level is exceptional. In a lighter mood, just as governor Ortom works very hard he also doesn’t joke with his meal regimen. Meet him at lunch time and you will agree that he’s got a very healthy appetite. Instructively, he probably eats just one major meal once in a day, filling in with fruits and vegetables.

Like I earlier indicated, I have worked with a number of governors both of the military hue, and the democratically elected. I declare emphatically that Governor Ortom’s memory is sharp and pointed. His capacity to recall issues, no matter how long in time they occurred, has continued to amaze me. He has a way especially with figures. His early experiences in life at the Gboko motor park where the existential credo was that of “dog eat dog,” where people had to be eagle-eyed must have bred this attribute. That apart though, Ortom before becoming governor of Benue State was an astute businessman whose interests spanned printing, manufacturing, farming, agro-business value chain and real estate. To this extent, he kept tabs on the numbers and figures emanating from these various business fronts. No matter how tired or distracted he appears to be, Ortom’s capacity for recall is one-of-a-kind.

Advertisement

His antenna instantaneously switches to the “alert” mode, especially when figures are concerned. If you take a memo to him, the first thing he looks at will be the figures. This may probably be because he doesn’t seem to be in love with very bulky documents. He prefers verbal briefs which speak to the issues
and he listens to every detail while taking mental notes. As a corollary to his virile cognitive capacity, Ortom often gives multiple appointments and remembers them all the following day. In his own way, he schedules them accordingly, doing so most times without the assistance of his protocol staff, even if they are within earshot.

Ortom is a very firm and fervid believer in God. He is eternally grateful to his Creator for his progress to contemporary prominence, with the hindsight of his very modest beginnings. Even if I had a hint of this before, working at close quarters with him has further enlightened me. His principles, beliefs and work ethic are derived from the teachings of the Holy Book. His grasp of the Bible is such that he quotes sections of it with effortless ease, while elucidating issues.

Advertisement

He describes himself as a mentee of “King David.” In line with his faith, Ortom reckoned that the state should have a distinct anthem of its own. This became germane after the public dedication of the state to God. The state anthem which is also and adoption and adaptation of a Christian song, was submitted to the state House of Assembly and passed in to law. Governor Ortom also ensures that prayers are offered before he leaves Government House to attend any engagement outside the state capital and on return. Most times, he leads these prayers.

Even as one from Guma LGA which is one of the frontline sections of the state most affected by the incessant attacks, one never really appreciated the magnitude of the havoc and destruction caused by serial herders attacks on the people of the state. In the last five years, massive killings by these marauding nomads have left at each attack a trail of grief and blood. Proof of these attacks and killings is the fact that about two million people including women and children are now sequestered in several camps for internally displaced persons, IDPs, across the state. Each time there was an attack, Ortom was moved to wail and lament over the massive killings and the destruction of farm lands by these AK-47-wielding herdsmen. Non-residents of Benue, people who have not had the opportunity to visit and see things for themselves, or who have deliberately refused to empathize with the governor, sadly mock him. Nigerians have indeed lost their sense of humanity. Indeed, the effects of the atrocities of these gun-totting herders on the economy of the state, is best imagined.

Advertisement

Amidst these challenges which have completely ravaged and destroyed the agrarian economy of Benue State, Ortom has recorded significant, albeit silent achievements in critical areas of the economy. These cannot be wished away even by his worst enemies. One never personally conceived of these striking efforts, especially in urban renewal untill I came to work closely with him. Considering the savagery visited on the state and the destruction of the very fabric of its economy, agriculture, Ortom has performed very well. If assessed objectively and without politicisation, he should be ranked among the top five performing state governors in Nigeria. And I say this without any fear of contradiction.

For example, sometime last year while commissioning township roads in Gboko, the national chairman of PDP, Iyorchia Ayu stated that, no governor in the history of Benue State has done the number and quality of roads Ortom has constructed in Gboko. Same goes to Otukpo and of course, Makurdi, the Benue state capital. Here, Ortom has constructed over 50 kilometers of asphalted roads. Some of these were recently commissioned by his colleagues, the “G 5” governors. They were in the state to lend their support at the flag off of the state campaigns for the 2023 general elections.

Advertisement

Very remarkable efforts too have been recorded in the areas of construction of rural roads, building of health clinics and the massive renovation of general hospitals across the state. New equipment like the MRI and Dialysis machines have also been acquired for the Benue State University Teaching Hospital. A general facelift has also been given to decaying structures in the institution. Unfortunately, Nigerian journalists have not been fair in reporting and acknowledging the achievements of the Ortom administration.

This is probably because Ortom has said on occasions, that he was “not interested in commissioning projects because of the massive cost of the ceremonies.” He believes that funds for such fanfare can be channeled in the construction of salutary projects which can impact the generalityof the people. Ortom’s endeavours, and indeed the advancement of Benue State post-2015, is best put into proper context, vis-a-vis the peculiar challenges and distractions of the state which has become the *status quo.*

Advertisement

After one year of working with Governor Ortom as his Chief of Staff, I can say it’s been a worthwhile experience thus far. Every opportunity or exposure one gets in life is a learning curve. The vistas and insights garnered working with government at such close proximity are not the stuff of courses or textbooks in government, political science or public administration. You have to be in the thick of it to appreciate that the line from point A to B, is not usually a straight one. Of course, like I said in my preliminary remarks, I am something of an “Emeritus” personnel of Government House. I previously logged about 13 years in the hub of government administration, much as I’ve never been a Chief of Staff before now.

I owe Governor Ortom deserved gratitude for pulling me out of the university system which I was getting to love, to come and share in the present experience, and to be part of his “first eleven team.” As his core personal aides, our duty is to support him to berth the ship of his administration, safely and soundly, after eight years of service to the good people of Benue State. Let me sum up by saying that history will definitely record Ortom positively when the story of Benue State will be written. He will be adjudged to have come, seen and conquered.

Advertisement

*Nyitse, PhD, journalist, administrator and communications scholar, is Chief of Staff to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.*

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Opinion

“G-5 GOVERNORS,” 2023 AND ORTOM’S NOVEL “BOTTOM TO TOP” MANTRA

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By Tunde Olusunle.

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Two incidents in the not too distant past, mitigated my physical participation in open-field, free-to-air political events, notably rallies and conventions, in recent times. At a rally of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital years ago, I left the venue of the event, relatively lighter than I went. My prized mobile phone had been pinched from the pocket of my national dress I donned to the event. It was an experience I had never had. With most of us almost wholly dependent on our electronic gadgets for day-to-day functionality, I felt like an orphan having been so criminally dispossessed of my device, for 24 subsequent hours. This was the time span between the pilferage of the equipment, and its eventual replacement. The second experience occurred as I queued to access *Eagle Square,* Abuja for the convention of the same party in 2017. I least imagined that the wad of currency notes I supposedly secured in one of the less visible pockets of my smart dress, could be so neatly, albeit criminally accessed!

On the recent invitation of the much-misunderstood governor of Benue State, Samuel Ioraer Ortom, however, I broke my subsisting self-censorship. I honoured the flag-off of the Benue State PDP campaigns, held in Makurdi the state capital, on Monday November 7, 2022. Candidates of the PDP contesting for various positions, at all levels in the February and March 2023 polls, were to be formally presented to the PDP family in the state. My longstanding friend and brother, Tivlumun Nyitse, Chief of Staff to Ortom, was the ideal host, on behalf of his Principal.

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The pre-event sensitisation was massive. Ortom’s colleagues, who have come to be known as the *G-5,* or the *Integrity Group* as they are interchangeably referred to, in contemporary political discourse, were to headline the event. Nyesom Wike, Seyi Makinde, Okezie Ikpeazu and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Rivers, Oyo, Abia and Enugu respectively, would be storming the *food basket of the nation,* the legend of Benue State, for the programme. They were coming to stir the Benue river, calmer now than weeks ago when its flooded banks chased the people from their homes and farmlands. The quintet have been vocal and unanimous in speaking up against issues they consider unjust and unfair, in the current structure and operations of their party, vowing never to back-down until their demands are addressed. The issues are public knowledge, and need no rehashing.

The airport at the typically sleepy *Nigerian Airforce Base,* Makurdi, came alive in the evening of Sunday November 6, 2022. Four private jets, each conveying Ortom’s guests, lit up the concreted face of the typically snoozing tarmac. Chief host Ortom would settle his guests in at the recently rehabilitated *Aper Aku* Lodge in Government House, christened after the Second Republic governor of the state. Aku is credited with several multisectoral innovations, during his shortlived four year term in office. Aper Aku Lodge is an innocuous, yet voluptuous complex with about 25 rooms, backing the Presidential Lodge within the Government House. After dinner with his guests in his own section of the Government House behemoth, Ortom led his guests on a short walk to the *Banquet Hall* for a reception.

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Benue State’s well-known affluent culture was on display. Dances and performances from the major ethnicities in the state, the *Tiv,* *Idoma,* *Igede* and *Agatu,* featured at the event. Ortom’s August guests responded by nodding their heads to the rhythms of music and the footwork of performances, intermittently applauding the performers. Ortom proclaimed the adoption of his guests as *honorary citizens* of Benue State, requesting that the proclamation be recorded in relevant instruments of the government. Wike, Ikpeazu, Makinde and Ugwuanyi were subsequently robed in traditional Tiv attires, complete with ceremonial spears. They took to the dais themselves, and shuffled to the rhythms and songs.

Ortom’s guests woke up the next morning, to a tour and simultaneous commissioning of projects in the state capital and its environs. It was an opportunity for Ortom to beam to the world, some of the infrastructures he had developed for his people. “Dr,” he called me as we chatted, “I find it amusing when people accuse me of not building even a simple bathroom in all my years as governor. I think it’s because I’m media shy. My upbringing and religious inclination, also forbid my blowing my own trumpet.” Ortom continued: “Again, I’m by nature a frugal person. If I reckon that the cost of commissioning a particular project can help us build a culvert somewhere, or a borehole elsewhere, that is more important to me than the fanfare of showcasing things we’ve already put in place.” And Ortom does have a commendable collage of infrastructures to flaunt before the eyes of his August guests and constituents, variously.

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They include: The 9.4 kilometre *Tse Poor- Mbakya-Apir road and electricity project,* named after first ever Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly Ayua Num, which was commissioned by Wike. The 7.7 kilometre *Tse Poor-Mbanima-Yaikyo road and electricity facility* named after Sule Abenga, the late *Ter Makurdi,* was commissioned by Ugwanyi, while the 3.2 kilometre *NKST- Yina- George Akume* road named after the charismatic Joseph Waku, a prominent Tiv leader, was commissioned by Makinde.

A two-kilometre
*Kaange Akaya- Lucy Aluor- Otukpo road,* christened after Wike, was commissioned by Ortom’s predecessor, Gabriel Suswam, who is now a Senator. The two kilometre road runs behind the *Commissioners’ Quarters* in Makurdi, the state capital. Instructively, the road leads to the residence of Iyorchia Ayu, Chairman of the PDP, with whom the *G-5* have been in the trenches for six months now. This is not overlooking the one and half kilometre *Low Cost Housing Estate-Banban road,* named after Chief JC Obande, a revered Idoma leader, which was also commissioned on the same day.

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The *IBB Square,* Makurdi, named after Nigeria’s former military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida is the equivalent of Abuja’s *Eagle Square* and the prime open-air events arena in the state. It was packed full and overflowing into adjoining streets as early as 10am, Monday November 7, even when the city’s ears were yet tingling to the fusion jazz of car honks and sirens, as Ortom and his guests toured various project sites. It was a carnival of PDP colours, a convergence of political greats who headline the politics of the state, and indeed the North Central geopolitical zone. The *VIP* section of the events place, had a pleasant challenge, contending with the visiting governors, and the *Who’s Who* in Benue State politics. Except for a very prominent political figure in the state and in Nigeria, former President of the Senate, David Mark who is bereaved, and Ayu, still in the eye of the storm, the roll call was as comprehensive as it was astounding.

The sun was sky-high and blistering, foreheads and faces dripping with grime and perspiration. But these were no deterrents to mammoth assemblage at the Square. Beginning with Ortom’s beautiful and indefatigable wife, Eunice, dignitaries at the event included the deputy governor of the state, the immensely humble and unassuming Benson Abounu. Suswam and his senator colleagues from the state, Emmanuel Orker-Jev and Abba Moro, respectively, were in attendance. Ortom is contesting for the senatorial seat of Benue North West, as he concludes his two terms as governor, May 29, 2023. To this extent, he is a candidate. Serving members and intending candidates of the lower national parliament, notably Richard Gbande, Robert Tyough, Julius Atorough, Benjamin Mzondu, Terkaa Agba, Ukah Emmanuel and John Dyegh, were present. Samson Okwu, Aida Nath Ogwuche, Alex Ogbe and Ojotu Ojema, attended the event.

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Member of the PDP Board of Trustees, (BOT), Margaret Icheen, acting Chairman of the party in the state, Isaac Mffo and his colleagues in the State Working Committee, were in full attendance. So were members of the Benue State PDP Campaign Management Committee, led by Cletus Tyokyaa. Gubernatorial flagbearer of the PDP in the 2023 election, Titus Uba and his running mate, John Ngbede, featured at the programme. Elder statesman and former Minister of the Federal Republic, Iyorwuese Hagher, and former presidential aide, Mike Mku, equally found time to grace the rally.

Speaker after speaker restated the imperative for all hands to be on deck for the decisive ouster of the seven and half year old regime of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), which has irreparably traumatised Nigeria. Ortom deployed the opportunity to recast the 2015 electioneering slogan by erstwhile APC flagbearer Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s outgoing President. Buhari had intoned in his now famous backlash of a speech at the time, that the “APC will take Nigeria from top to bottom!” Sadly, Buhari’s underwhelming performance over the years, has given a new meaning to that evergreen utterance. It has been interpreted in contemporary political disputation to imply his prophetic resolve to take Nigeria literally from socioeconomic ascendancy, to the valley of all-round poverty, destitution and ignominy.

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Ortom’s new mantra proposes a “bottom to top” political prototype. This anticipates the holistic triumph of the PDP at all levels, beginning from the polling units, through the wards, to the local government areas, onwards to the state, and the federal level. To this extent, the PDP will work towards excelling from the offices of councillors, through local government chairmen, to state assembly members, to federal parliamentarians, to the governorship, and onwards to the presidency. In doing so, Ortom restated that the PDP will not kick away the ropes and ladders with which it sought and received support for ascent to the mountain top. Everyone, every structure from the minutest levels will receive adequate shelter and accommodation under the infinite umbrella of the PDP. Development and dividends of democracy will be fairly apportioned.

Those who expected brickbats and missile-hurling at the event, against the backdrop of the subsisting bad blood between the *G-5* and the larger PDP, were most probably disappointed. While expressing his disaffection with the management of rifts and schism within his party, a very realistic Ortom admonished people to vote for their preferred candidates and parties in the coming polls. This must have arisen from his recognition of the dispositions of other party leaders and stakeholders in the state, who have affinity with candidates, different from his preference, especially at the presidential level. A window for possible rapprochement to the subsisting intra-party impasse in the PDP, was opened last Wednesday, when the *G-5* visited Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed. Wike spoke on behalf of his colleagues, to the effect that his faction remains open to dialogue and reintegration.

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A meeting was reportedly held by Babangida, yesterday which featured Atiku, Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, Okowa, Aminu Tambuwal and former governors Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Bonnie Haruna, Babangida Aliyu, Sule Lamido, Emeka Ihedioha, among others. It may be the eventual olive branch in the mitigation of the subsisting, long-drawn saga. The PDP realises the imperative of confronting the 2023 test as one united family, and will stop at nothing to secure the buy-in of every relevant stakeholder. The APC has adorned itself with ample inflammable oil for comprehensive barbecuing in the 2023 polls. Even at that, the PDP will do better as an undivided, indivisible “combat unit,” to deploy a military terminology.

*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).*

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Opinion

2023/2024 AND THE CONTINUING OKUN QUEST FOR KOGI GOVERNORSHIP

Bulletproof , Gunmen, kogi
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By Tunde Olusunle

Select leaders and sociocultural groupings from the *Okun* country in Kogi State have once again, commenced fervid advocacy in the continuing quest for the governorship slot of the multicultural middle belt state. The state is host to the intersection of two of Nigeria’s largest rivers, the Niger and the Benue, which can be gleaned from ample elevations in the state capital, Lokoja and its environs. The Okun quest has become a regular refrain, since the emplacement of the state on August 27, 1991, by the administration of Nigeria’s erstwhile military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. For the purposes of elucidation, the Okun nationality comprises of the Okun-Yoruba speaking peoples of six out of seven local government areas, (LGAs), in Kogi West senatorial zone in Kogi State. Okun people are to be found in: Yagba East, Yagba West, Mopamuro, Ijumu, Kabba-Bunu, and the Oworo district in Lokoja LGA. Okunland is the fountain of several revered scholars, technocrats, bureaucrats, businessmen, military top brass, legal luminaries, among several other specialists.

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It has been postulated that Okunland alone, has the highest percentage per square metre of professors in Nigeria, over and above the numbers posted by any other state within similar geophysical boundaries. Five hundred and fifty, (550), professors have been documented thus far from the area, while other Okun intellectuals are regularly joining the topmost rungs of academic attainments. The distribution of doctorate degrees is almost per household. There are two in my family for instance, while three are in the mint. Over a dozen legal luminaries of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN) are identifiable from the same catchment. Okunland is home to Africa’s largest cement plant, the Dangote Obajana Cement Complex, in Lokoja LGA. A second such industry being driven by Mangal Nigeria Ltd, is getting off the ground in Ijumu LGA.

The population of Okun people is approximately 800,000. This indeed is bigger than the numerical size of some countries in the world. Guyana, Western Sahara, Barbados, Malta, Macau, Sao Tome and Principe, among others, are indeed by size and population, smaller than contemporary Okunland. The preceding attributes of the sub-nationality, attest to the quantum and quality of the human and mineral resource base of Okunland. Despite these mouthwatering attractions and endowments of Okunland, however, it has been regularly and deliberately undermined, even spited, in the quest for the Number One office in the state, over time. No Okun person has been substantive chief executive of Kogi State.

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Ahead of the off-season gubernatorial election in the state which is scheduled for the last quarter of 2023, agitations have begun from various ethnicities and senatorial zones, for the top job. Hitherto, the predominantly *Igala* speaking Kogi East, had exercised virtual monopoly of the office. Beginning from the pioneer civilian administration of Abubakar Audu between January 2, 1992 to November 1993, Kogi East has maintained a stranglehold on the office. With the dawn of democratic governance in 1999, Audu, a seasoned bank executive who flew the flag of the now defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, (ANPP), returned to *Lugard House.*

Government House, Lokoja is so called because it was christened after the British Governor-General of Nigeria, Frederick Lugard, who once lived in the town. Lugard reportedly oversaw the amalgamation of the northern and southern Nigerian protectorates, into what stands as Nigeria today. He was also pioneer Governor-General of the new creation. In a very rare appearance of an Okun personality on the gubernatorial ballot in Kogi State, Stephen Olorunfemi, a successful architect and businessman, of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), sparred with Audu in the 1999 polls.

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Audu, however, lost his reelection bid in 2003, to Ibrahim Idris, who is also from *Igalaland.* Idris was to savour a two-term ticket which kept him in office for eight years. Indeed, he stayed in office a few months beyond the eight years because his reelection in 2007 was challenged in court by Audu his serial co-competitor. A rerun was subsequently ordered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), about six months into Idris’ second term. Idris vacated office for a few months, to allow for the conduct of a fresh election which he won. During the interregnum, Clarence Olafemi, Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly, (KSHA), stood in as Acting Governor. Idris won the election and returned to office for a fresh run of four years.

Preparatory to the completion of Idris’ second term, the ruling PDP in 2011, conducted a gubernatorial primary to elect a flagbearer. It has been advanced that 2011 remained the best chance of Okunland to produce a governor, a brilliant and competent one at that. Okun achievers like: Bayo Ojo, SAN, CON, (former attorney-general and justice minister); Olusola Akanmode, (former chief of staff to the Vice President) and Clarence Olafemi, erstwhile Speaker of KSHA, all contested the primary. Idris’ longserving finance commissioner, Biodun Ojo; telecommunications businessman, Dehinde Abolarin, and former military officer, Bello Fadile, also threw their hats in the ring.

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While Okun contestants shredded the delegates’ votes which they should have harnessed into a single pot, it was easy for Idris in furtherance of the Igala agenda, to settle for Jibrin Isah, a bank executive. Even when the primary was cancelled and a rerun ordered by INEC, Idris who had fallen out with Isah, installed yet another kinsman and favourite, Idris Wada, an aviator, consistent with Nigeria’s nepotistic democratic model. Wada led the state from January 2012 to January 2016. The late Abubakar Audu who ran against Wada on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), was coasting to victory during the October 2015 governorship election, when he died in very mysterious circumstances.

Instructively, there was an attempt in the aftermath of the 2015 general elections, to forge rapprochement between Kogi West and Kogi Central, for the mutual benefit of both zones. The results of the presidential election for that year, showed that the votes from both zones, far outweighed the tally from Kogi East. The West and Central therefore reignited their age-old political homogeneity, which had both zones together in the former Kwara State, before the 1991 states creation exercise. Both zones believed that if they stuck together and worked as a monolithic bloc, they could neutralise Kogi East. Former health minister, Eyitayo Lambo, (emeritus professor), was one of the prime movers of the initiative.

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In a curious manifestation of novel legal gymnastics, Yahaya Bello, an *Ebira* from Kogi Central who posted second place at the APC governorship primary which produced Audu, was assigned the votes garnered by Audu and returned as governor! The maverick *afrobeat* musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would have described that as “government magic…where red is turned into blue!” There is as yet no such precedence in Nigeria’s staccato democratic experience, beginning from the first republic in the 1960s. Bello who has administered the state with legendary malevolence and cold-bloodedness since January 2016, appropriated to himself a second term in office beginning from January 2020, specifically by the barrel of the gun. Bello’s electoral ingenuity inspired the release of the hit “musical track and music video,” *ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.*

With the rapid onset of the completion of Bello’s second term, the political air in Kogi State is abuzz, expectedly. The space is dominated by discussions and postulations about where the governorship pendulum should swing, come January 2024. Between Audu, Idris and Wada, the Igala in Kogi East, grossed a minimum of 18 years at the helm in Lugard House. By the time Bello concludes his second term in office in 2024, the Ebira of Kogi Central, would have logged eight years in the same office. In a rational, free and fair political situation, Okunland should automatically and unanimously produce Bello’s successor.

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Kogi is not the only state which is home to divergent cultures and ethnicities. Elsewhere, seamless rotation has been perfected to accord every segment of the various states a sense of belonging. Beginning in 1999 with an Urhobo governor in James Ibori, other ethnicities are taking their turns in Delta State. Emmanuel Uduaghan, (2007 to 2015) and Ifeanyi Okowa, (2015 to the present), have flown the flags of the *Itsekiris* and *Aniomas* respectively. Rotation has also been perfected in states like Cross River, where all three governors since 1999- Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke and the incumbent Ben Ayade- come from different senatorial zones in the state. The same obtains even in culturally homogenous entities like Enugu, Bayelsa, Anambra and so on.

Against the background of the serial marginalisation of Okunland from the political scheme in Kogi State, leaders from the area have on several occasions, canvassed the creation of an *Okun State.* The initiative is intended to accommodate Okun people in Kwara, Ekiti and Ondo states respectively, bound together by the same sociology, culture, tongues and worldview. Submissions to this effect have been made to the “2014 National Conference,” set up by former president, Goodluck Jonathan, and relevant committees of the national assembly. This explains the profundity of the pangs of pain, thus far endured by the Okun people and Kogi West in general, in the sustained dysfunctional political equation in Kogi State.

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From feelers on the streets of Lokoja, all three senatorial zones are bracing up to challenge for *Lugard House,* even as INEC has fixed the gubernatorial primary around mid-2023. The Igala have felt like fish out of water these past seven years, relegated to the backup position of deputy governor, whereas they hitherto called the shots. The Ebira are flying a kite to the effect that they be allowed to serve an additional two terms of eight years, at the end of Bello’s regime. A mischievous billboard was recently erected on the streets of Lokoja with numerals asking for *Ebiraland* to run a seamless 16 years, to approximate *Igalaland’s* 18. In this calculus, no mention was made of *Okunland* which is expected to remain at “zero years” in the political scheme.

A number of press conferences have been addressed at the levels of the *Okun Development Association,* (ODA), drawing attention to the recurring relegation of Okunland in the Kogi geopolitical scheme. Another body under the umbrella of the ODA, *Okun Development Initiative,* (ODI) convened by Olusuyi Otitoju and Lekan Aiyenigba, on Saturday September 17, setup a lobby group to meet with and secure the buy-in of political figures across the various constituencies and zones of the state. The membership includes Sola Enikanolaye, (retired ambassador); Clarence Olafemi, (former acting governor); Mike Ikupolati and Kola Olorunleke, (both professors);
Oladimeji Adeoye and B.F. Ayeni, (both retired army generals), and Funmilayo Bodunde, (respected woman leader). Tunde Bello and Bamidele Suru, (both highly regarded attorneys), are also in the group. The aim is to deepen the imperative of prioritising the “Okun for Governor” agenda, in popular consciousness as we stride towards 2023/2024.

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On Friday October 21, 2022, the *Okun Think Tank,* (OTT), the technocratic arm of ODA, held a meeting convened in Abuja, by its vice chairman, Julius Olakunle Oshanupin, a retired army general, on the same subject. Olu Obafemi, (distinguished professor and recipient of the Nigeria National Order of Merit, (NNOM)); Joash Amupitan, (SAN, professor and deputy vice-chancellor (administration) of the University of Jos) and Mike Kupolati, (also a professor, were in attendance. *ODA* president, Femi Mokikan, (a revered attorney); Babatunde Paul Fadumiyo, Akenson Rotimi and Olusegun Ijagbemi, (all retired ambassadors); Adekunle Obayemi, (retired air commodore); Dan Kunle, (reputable business consultant); J O Yusuf (political leader) and Salman Idris, (seasoned architect), honoured the invite.

The consensus at the meeting was that power is never served on a platter, but wrestled from the grips of power mongers. It was proposed that a team of political strategists be purposely engaged, if we do not have people with such proficiencies in the ranks of Okun people. Many presidents across the globe, engaged multitasking strategists to help plot and plan their pathways to power. Such professionals should draw up for Okunland, a blueprint about how to best pullout the chestnut from the fireplace, how to confront, clobber and carpet the lion in its own den. The challenge for the acquisition of power from the status quo in Kogi State, it was agreed, is a combination of the genteel and the robust. In all of these, Okunland will work with its people in the Lokoja and Kotonkarfe LGAs with whom it shares the Kogi West senatorial zone, and believers in fairness, equity and justice, across the state and beyond.

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Irrespective of party affiliation, Okun people must gird their loins for the proper plunge and push for Lugard House, Lokoja, if they must secure the ultimate trophy. Prejudices, animosities, jealousies and presumptuousness must be exorcised even from the onset. This is not the time for chicanery, debauchery, subterfuge and brinkmanship in any form. Distractions and diversions must be dispensed with, even from the starting blocks of the project. Okun people must approach this with a “never say die,” “forward ever” resolve, until the the tape is finally breasted.

*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).*

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