‘ATTRACTING INVESTORS CAN’T BE DONE OVER NIGHT’
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, fresh from a business and investment forum in China on the eve of his 56th birthday interfaced with journalists including Geoffrey Jimin and Terna Injua about the gains of the trip, his party’s recent council congresses, among other issues.
You turned 56 today, any word on your birthday anniversary?
I thank the Almighty God and I appreciate my people from the land of my birth in Guma Local Government and then the Benue people. They have made me proud and I appreciate God for lifting me from humble beginnings to where I am today. I’m really humbled and I look forward that whatever I am today I’ll continue to complement the lives of Benue people and Nigerians. What I can do to add value to the lives of our people is a very big challenge to me. As Governor what can I do to alleviate the sufferings of my people, what can I do to add to the development of Benue State and Nigeria? For God to have kept me up to this time I want to assure you that I’ll continue to do my best to add value. My prayer is that the Almighty God whom I trust and who has lifted me up from my humble beginnings to where I am today and who has given me the opportunity to do modest achievements in the development of our economy, in the development of the social life of the people and the development of the political life of the people will continue to help me not to in any way make the lives of our people miserable, but rather God will help me to add value to the development of life.
You just returned from a trip to China, what would you say are the gains of the trip?
Of course I attended the business forum organised by the Nigerian Governors Forum which about fifteen of Nigerian Governors attended including myself and with the Chinese businessmen. For those of you who have been to China you will appreciate the fact that China is moving at a very fast speed that requires Nigeria to take a cue from it. We were all developing countries in the seventies but where China is today Nigeria needs to copy just like we copied from other parts of the world. I think we have so much to learn from them, their resilience, their hard work, their discipline, their understanding of putting their country first before any other thing. We need to learn and tap from it. And there is so much that we can learn and one good thing that I’m happy that is in line with my development agenda is about industrialisation. Industrialization remains the beacon of development for the third world. Jobs will be created, wealth will be created and other massive opportunities as we see in China. China with their massive population they have been able to engage the people through industrialization and I think from what I’ve seen we can also take a cue from there. And one thing that I am happy which I intend to replicate here is that the business community, the government and the party have a common agenda of adding value and developing the economy and welfare of the people of China. I think if we take our bearing from there we will have a lot of good things to take home. So I look forward that we will benefit. While we were there we were able to meet with several business communities and sign several MOUs and we agreed also on partnership between our cities especially Makurdi city and a city in China. We also agreed on how we can transfer technology to our people. We also agreed on how we can make the untapped resources that are here in Nigeria to be opened up by the Chinese business community who are quite advanced in terms of technology in developing agriculture, in developing mining, in developing other untapped resources that we have here. Even in culture and tourism I think we have a lot to learn based on their expertise. So it went on very well. One thing I am happy is that it was my initiative when I was Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment to organise a forum in Guangzhou, China and today it is progressing. Last year we hosted the North Central Zonal meeting and this year we were able to host the entire Nigeria Governors Forum. I think that each state that went there had something to take home. We had a lot to take home back here in agriculture, in business, in industry and so on. So I’m happy and well fulfilled that this forum yielded better results more than ever.
While you were away there was this ugly news that one of your commissioners was arrested in China, can you use this opportunity to clear the air?
You see I don’t know whether this came from any of the media that is here interviewing me in Benue State. I recognize you. I do not recognize social media as an authentic source of news. Please as a person I’ve withdrawn from Facebook. I’ve withdrawn from all activities of illegal sources on social media. If I go to the internet I can browse what Channels are saying, I can browse what The Guardian or any other national paper, Punch, Sun or any other media is giving me story about myself or Nigeria, I’ll listen. There is no single iota of truth in any member of my delegation arrested in China. We went in, we passed through the immigration, we passed through the customs and as we came back we passed through the immigration again and all members of my delegation came back with me. There was no any interruption of any our activities throughout our stay. We visited other provinces, not just in Guandong province where we went. We visited other provinces. I personally went to about two other provinces and my commissioners went to two other provinces including Beijing and Shanghai and they came back. So it is completly false. I want to advice people that please if you want to confirm any information about this government or about Samuel Ortom please contact our media team or the office right here in Government House, The Situation room. We have already established that and I think we will make it available to people who are interested in knowing about us. There is no iota of truth and there is no basis whatsoever. The people I went with are quite disciplined people, they are highly educated and they know what to do. They respect the law and so there couldn’t have been anything like that. And they have never been criminals. These are two professors; Commissioner for Industry, Trade and Investment who is an associate Professor and Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology who is a long standing professor. So there is no basis whatsoever. It was just meant to smear the name of my team and I want to use this opportunity to advise Benue people and Nigerians that please, such lies should not be considered to be anything. Social media is not the best place to go.
You have been out there wooing investors. The concerns of the opposition party is that you have been traveling and telling them that investors are coming. Has any one of these investors come to town already or when do you think that they actually start something on ground for people to see that yes these trips are yielding fruits?
Look, these things are not a one-day business, it’s a process. One, we have visited and they will come here. You have been seeing Chinese delegations coming here and doing there due diligence. Right now as I talk to you, due diligence has been done in industrial layout. As I talk to you, we have signed MOU with companies in China in agriculture, in solid Minerals and so on. So, we have done these visits and we are expecting a payback visit from some of these investors. It’s a continuous process because some of them cannot materialize during the tenure of my administration. But if I had had the foundation that had been laid through these contacts and all that, by now we would have been seeing a lot of things happening. For instance, while we were there, one of the contacts we made this time was for generation of power and of course you know that that is our main problem. How can Nigeria with a population of over 170 million by 2012 projection be talking about 4000 megawatts of power when a city within a province in China is talking about 12, 15,000 megawatts? This is a challenge. And some of these cities do not need power generation again. And one of the contacts we made was through a Chinese businessman who is doing business in Benue State, and in Nigeria, was to bring two 36 megawatts plants in Benue State. And they gave us the latitude to ask other people who have the capacity of fueling these generating plants like we have three of them; one 180, one 260 and one 210, that they are ready to move them to Nigeria. I inspected them; I saw them physically. So, it’s not something that can be done overnight. One, for the 36 megawatts, which are two, that is 72 megawatts if you power them through boiler, each of them can generate up to 50 megawatts. This is what we were told. Our concern for going for the lower one was because of the high rate of consumption of natural Gas. We don’t have it here. We have to transport it from the South to Benue State. So it’s a process. We are expecting the people to come over here, look at the site and then we sign agreement on what role government will play because we don’t have the money to give them, but we can identify areas like policy and regulation at the national level and what we can do here by providing land and so on. They will shift their equipment here, invest here and of course if they invest, it means based on the policy at the federal level, Benue State Government will be entitled to own 20% of the power generation that is being made. Once we have that, like I keep singing, our major problem is not industries; it is about power generation and security in this country. If we have that, the contacts we have made are enough to bring massive investment. That is why I have continued to talk to our people that no need taking laws into our hands. Let us work together to achieve security for this land. Investors are willing to come but it cannot be done in the midst of anarchy, insecurity when people know that their investments are not secured, it becomes very difficult to convince them to come and begin to invest. Several people have come here but because of this power challenge, and of course security challenges, they left and are still trying time. We’ve already made contacts for Taraku Mills, we’ve already made contacts for several other industries that are moribund in this state and several others that intend to come and invest including glass industry that can use raw materials from our river here which has been adjudged one of the best. It can be used. So, these are the challenges. It is not something that can be done overnight. You are not going to buy something on the shelf. It’s a process, but we’ll continue to do it. Even when I leave as Governor, the foundation has been laid so this thing will continue and it will be for the benefit of all of our people.
Can you give us an update on the Mbatyav Cement Factory?
Of course, we signed an MOU with a Chinese Company, One Belt One Road Company in China and we are expecting them to come here and do there due diligence. In China, there are several cement plants and with their technology some can be very portable. While we are doing that of Igumale, we can still do that of the Mbatyav and Benue Cement can still continue its operation because the need for cement is massive and there is no quantity that will be too much for Benue State and for Nigeria. And also, on the Igumale Cement Plant, we are in touch with the investor but unfortunately we could not meet while we were in China because he was in Kenya where they already have another plant but we have completed everything that we agreed that Government of Benue State was going to do. For instance, we have secured the expatriate quota for the cement plant, it’s now been given to us about last month, we have also done due diligence on other things that we’re supposed to do. We were supposed to pay a consultant to obtain a license for mining including coal because they intend to generate their own power to power the plant and so all the lincenses that are required we have paid the consultant for them and the processes are going on. On his part, the fabrication of the machinery has been completed right there in China what is expected now is for them to shift it to Igumale so that work would be completed.
While you were away your party conducted primaries for councilors and chairmanship candidates and you and Senator George Akume are being accused of manipulating the process, what’s your reaction?
We expect that because this is a ruling party, everybody is in. Before I left we held a caucus meeting and we agreed that the right thing be done. But for those of us who have been in this game for a long time this is not an unusual thing, it is normal, protest is normal but it should be addressed. The party will set up appeal panels both at the councillorship and chairmanship levels and every constant will have an opportunity of making him or herself available to those panels and these can go as far as the National Executive Committee of the party where people are not still satisfied with with what is done here. When I heard about people protesting I said there is no need for protests because the guidelines of the party are very clear. If you are aggrieved, if you are not satisfied with the process that went on, report to the next level and it will be addressed. I think that is not a problem. Those who have made contact with me I have told them that there is no problem, we will work out a solution. A committee is already in place which is headed by the Deputy Governor looking at all those issues to verify them and where there is need to go to the appeal panel they go. But one thing I want to emphasize is that the decision of the people must count while as Governor I will still continue to push that that must be done. It is not fair to accuse the Senator and accuse me, I think we have done our best and we will continue to ensure that there is transparency in what we are doing because we derive this power from the people and we must work with them, more so that we are in a recession. Things are difficult; the issue of ensuring that the grassroots have leadership must come from the people. So, that is where we stand. But you know some people, there is no amount of what you do that they will still be satisfied, but I think that we are on the right path. We are compelled by law to do the election, we are going to do it, but definitely, there are challenges ahead, I look forward that Benue people will continue to pray and those who are coming in will also continue to pray that the economy improves and things work out so that all of us will be better for it.
While you were away, there were Fulani invasions in parts of Kwande, that is Jato Aka and Ikpayongo in Gwer local government area. Can you react to these?
The issue of herdsmen invasion in Benue State is not new but government is on top of it and the security men are here with us. We appreciate Mr. President for supporting us by providing security men. As I speak to you, there is a detachment of soldiers that are available for us to have an augment where it is necessary to support the police and the civil defense. We have police men that were sent here by the Inspector General of Police, IG, to support us and that is why relatively there is some calm in the state. Where issues of insecurity are reported to us, we move in swiftly and we keep emphasing that nobody should take laws into their hands. People should be law abiding. Report to us trespasses, killings, destructions and we will handle that on their behalf. That is why Mr. President sent these security men to work with me here. You don’t need to go and fight any Fulani man. Let me know that this is your problem. I have set up committees at the kindred level, at ward, at the local government level and at the state level and I expect that where there are issues report to us and we will handle them. Those ones that have been reported to us we have handled them and today there is peace in those places. But people when they decide to take laws into their hands by blocking roads and doing all kinds of other atrocities, two wrongs can never make a right. So let us work together to achieve peace. People will begin to afraid of Benue State when we continue to be a terror to ourselves. But let the law, the police men are there they are paid by the Federal Government, it’s the tax payer’s money that is paid to them. Allow them do their job. Why do you want to take their job in their place? So I want to appeal to our people that no matter the provocation we must be law abiding so that government can defend us. But you when you decide to take laws into your hands it makes it difficult. And when you go to arrest one side they will say why have you arrested this one, if you go to arrest from this other side they we say why did you arrest this one? So you are putting the government in a fix. As I said the solution to Fulani invasion against farmers in this country is ranching. Nowhere in civilised world that you see cattle moving about as they move in Nigeria, even in Africa. So we must ranch our cattle. We must look at this. I have been crying for this for how many years that we must ranch our cattle. This will put an end to that. I coming from China, I went to an agricultural state in Zouzou and I saw cattle in ranch, even sheep. I did not see a chicken on the road. Why can’t we do it here? Why must we live with animals? This is not right. And so Nigerians must come together, we must come together, the Federal Government and the States must come together to support the herdsmen to ranch their cattle. That is the only way we can find peace. They will find peace, farmers will find peace, government will find peace, security men will find their peace. And we will be using our energy and resources to do other things that will help. If not in the mist of this recession how do we continue to spend on security, on security, on security every day when you wake up you talk about security. So please let everybody be law abiding. This strategy of putting these committees in place and ensuring that they enforce the law is the best and those cases that have been reported to us we have taken care of them.