Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State wants residents in the state to feel a sense of belonging through his amnesty programme, writes Odimegwu Onwumere
The convivial Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr. Terver Akase in a public presentation last year exposed that many parts of Benue were in turmoil with traits of violence before the emergence of his principal as governor. Akase opined that Benue State was an opera of violence, armed robbery, kidnapping, political killings, thuggery and cultism.
The irony, according to Akase, was that the economy of the state was being pummeled as investors and others were fleeing the state for a safe ground elsewhere. Therefore, when Ortom mounted the saddle and took oath of office on May 29, 2015, he declared the amnesty programme to give the lawbreakers a new lease of life to live and be better citizens.
After the first expiration of the amnesty programme in August 2015, in September the governor raised the flag of devoutness on amnesty and granted some persons who were illegally detained in custody for being in possession of arms and ammunitions forgiveness. When he saw that some persons this year were in the patio to surrender their dubious acts especially in the Benue South Senatorial District, he gave in and lengthened his Olive Branch to them.
Governor Ortom has been garnering support and kudos from far and near with this singular act. From the youth, elders and traditional rulers the song on their lips is that the governor is one who wants his people to be responsible citizens devoid of breaking laws. The Idoma Traditional Council is today thanking Ortom for having a listening ear to the plea it made in Otukpo during a security meeting he had with stakeholders where the traditional council pleaded with him to extend the amnesty.
It is observable that in a situation like this, not all would show support. And the governor was once irked that some persons did not support the programme when it was freshly generated till its expiration and here they were pleading with him for extension; something he has obliged and is calling on all others who still have illegal arms to willingly surrender and sin no more. It was not certain why some persons had arms in the state. Perhaps, due to the frequent clashes the farmers in the state were having with herdsmen.
However, the governor has curtailed the clashes and is moving to meet his counterpart Nasarawa State to find a lasting solution to the clashes between herdsmen and farmers. What would happen to the persons who have refused to surrender their illegal possession of arms is contained in the statement that the governor made on May 29, 2015 at IBB Square, Makurdi.
"We will move decisively against our youths and their patrons who have chosen a living out of unbridled acts of terror and thuggery. Government will no longer be a shield for these youths and those who patronise them. Whoever they may be and no matter how powerful they are, they will be brought to account. We call on all unlawfully armed persons who have been terrorising innocent citizens to immediately surrender their arms, be free and get integrated into our reform programme, or we shall pursue them down to their holes," Governor Ortom had said.
What stands the governor out in the programme is that he is not just making verbal pronouncement; he set up a committee that would oversee the programme some days it was made public. Today, the programme has recorded a major feat with the likes of an infamous gang leader whose name was given as Terwase Agwaza (aka Ghana) who was bent on terrorising parts of Benue and Taraba States surrendering to the programme with what media report said was with large catches of arms and ammunition - 84 assorted riffles and 770 rounds of ammunition.
It is obvious that the governor is not leaving any stone unturned in making sure that the programme was a success. His budget for the programme this year amounted to some millions of naira to make sure that the once notorious elements were rehabilitated and given a fresh air to be engaged in money-spinning ventures that are legal. It would, therefore, behoove Governor Samuel Ortom and his counterparts in the neighbouring states to form a joint of "Truth and Friendship Commission" just as the neighbouring countries with Nigeria are forming in the fight against terrorism.
There should be transparency, accountability and sustainability in the programme to make it achieve the aim it was formed. There should be a regular audit, just as companies carry out environmental and social audits. There should be documentation for every undocumented person residing in Benue State to help fight criminals that might be threatening the state again in the name of gangsterism.