From Bus Conductor to Government House-The Inspirational story of Benue Governor

Dr. Samuel Ioraer Ortom is the Governor of Benue state. On Wednesday, 6th July, 2011, during his screening on the floor of the Senate as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he told Senators a moving story of his life which compelled them to ask him to take a bow and go. Senators were stirred by an account of his background as a school dropout, a motor park tout and one who struggled to attain education through very difficult means. After running through his curriculum vitae, Senator Ehigie Uzamere, moved a motion, asking the Senate to allow him to take a bow without further questions because of his sincerity in uncovering his background. Senators described him as a veritable bridge between the poor and the rich.

In this exclusive interview with Saturday Vanguard, he spoke more about his life. Excerpt:

So much have been heard about your life and your rise from grass to this enviable positions, how did all begin?

Well, I want to give glory to God. I was born on the 23rd of April, 1961 in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State. My father , now late, was a retired Police Sergeant, David Ortom Adorogo of Mbabegha Clan, Nzorov District, Nongov, and my mother, late Wajina Ortom Adorogo. I was enrolled into the St. John’s Primary School, Gboko, in 1970 but moved to St. Catherine’s Primary School, Makurdi in 1974 where I completed my primary education in 1976. I   was admitted into Idah Secondary Commercial College, Idah in Kogi State in 1976.

Just like every other child. I had an aspiration to be a medical doctor right from my primary school and secondary school days. But unfortunately, my secondary education was truncated in form three in 1979 due to my father’s retirement from the Police. I came back to Gboko on holiday just like every other child from Idah, which was then part of the present day Benue, for holiday but   couldn’t go back to school because there was no transportation fare.

But instead of idling away or taking to social vices, I decided to join the motor park business. It was at the park that a Good Samaritan taught me   how to drive a car perhaps because of my honesty and dedication to duty. But just before that move, I must confess that I came in contact with the Lord Jesus Christ. I accepted Christ and gave my life to God completely, I became a born again Christian. In fact, the turning point in my life was that singular move and decision to embrace Christ.

Benue Governor-  Samuel Ioraer Ortom

Benue Governor- Samuel Ioraer Ortom

And that was the time I completely embraced   the precepts of the Book of Job: 36 verse 11 which says “If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures. And verse 12 which also says, “But if they obey not, they shall perish by the sword, and they shall die without knowledge.”

From this passage I found that the recipe for success and failure was imbedded in the scriptures. God made it   clear to me that if I desired to succeed I must have faith in Him and also be determined and work hard, because God can make it happen. I remember that the Bible also says ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all other things shall be added unto you.’

So guided by these biblical principles and injunctions   I was very faithful; as a motor park tout in Gboko. I was distinct and   different, I was decent in my conduct and behaviour because of my christian background. And as a motor conductor every driver clamoured to work with me. I later found myself as a taxi driver. I did well. I was disciplined, I conducted myself as a Christian. While there I found myself working with a Christian brother, Pa Samuel Ihugh, an elder in Gboko who loved the Lord   and was doing a lot for the Christian community there.

He employed me as a driver, I worked with him, and the job excited me because I could use his Peugeot vehicle at that time to move around to preach and propagate the gospel. He was very good and kind to me. I was excited working with him and I eventually got married and had a family. And he was able to take care of us and we continued with life.

But one day, I remember that even after close of work, I usually waited behind in case there was any errand I could run for him, just as I was waiting outside, I noticed that the wind blew part of a newspaper towards me, in my eagerness to read something while waiting, I picked the paper, and in it, I read an advertisement of the National School of Salesmanship Manchester, England, by correspondent.

That was the beginning of my being launched into academics. I went through it and I was interested. I applied, and   within two weeks I got a reply and received a brochure; of how people went through the school, even people who dropped out of school but made up their deficiencies got their masters and Ph.d degree and everything; and were working in prestigious places.

I got interested, and I wrote and applied and within two years I earned a Diploma in Salesmanship, and that inspired me. In two years, precisely in 1984 I studied hard and got it. I was indeed inspired to sit for tutorials to get my GCE. It may amaze you to know that I sat for GCE once and made four credits.

I kept toiling on, and continued working with my boss. But after sometime, with my Diploma I searched for greener pasture, so I went ahead and by the grace of God started work with Pepsi Cola International, then Gyado Foods in Makurdi, as a Salesman Driver; and within one one year, I got four promotions and rose to a substantive Sales Manager, chauffeur driven. It was God. I couldn’t imagine that I, who was a sales man, driving all those big trucks and trailers was being chauffeur driven.

It was amazing. But I gave all the glory to God. And after in 1989 I resigned from the work as sales manager and joined partisan politics. I won elections on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, to become the Chairman of Guma Local Government Area. I was there from 1991 to 1993 when the military truncated democracy and took over governance.

At the time I felt like upgrading my knowledge, I applied and secured admission at the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria and earned a Diploma in Journalism. And later enrolled to read political science at degree level, but before then, because the prerequisite for degree programme in the university was five credits passes including English and Maths; since I did not have Maths, I enrolled for GCE and got my credit in Maths.

So I got all prerequisite for admission to the university. But I could not continue with the Degree in Zaria because of family burden at home and again, I was sponsoring myself. There was no assistance from anywhere so I came back to Makurdi. I went back to politics again. Eventually I was elected the state publicity secretary of the Center Party. That process too was truncated by the military in 1996. The new parties came on board and I emerged the state treasurer of APP and eventually I defected to the PDP and was elected secretary of the PDP in Benue state, an assignment I did for six years.

The opportunity I had while serving as secretary was that I was able to enroll and studied for an Advanced Diploma in Public Admin. I also enrolled for a Masters programme in Public Administration; in 2004 I graduated. And I continued to search for more knowledge, I enrolled for Masters in Development Studies, this was around 2006. Eventually I was elected the National Auditor of the PDP.

So I could not continue with the Programme in Benue State University because it was a full time programme. So when I got to Abuja as National Auditor of the party, I saw this online programme that was convenient for me from Commonwealth University Belize. I applied and did it through distant learning. So that was how I got a Phd in Conflict Management in the year 2010.

You also know that In 2011 I was appointed Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investment and later in 2014 the Supervising Minister of Aviation and much later same year when I resigned to contest in the governorship elections which I won. And so that is how the journey of my life has been. And God has been very gracious. I must say that the Bible is complete. When you serve God faithfully, God also demonstrates his faithfulness to you. That is what has been my story.

All along I’ve depended on God, I’ve looked up to God. And He has been gracious. I’ve always told my story to all the people that come my way. And I’ve also made it clear that it’s not about me, but it also applies to everyone that obeys and serves God faithfully. He would do the same to you. He will open the way and clear hurdles for you. I appreciate God because where I am today was made possible by Him. It is not by any other means.

I remember when I started the aspiration to be Governor of Benue state, many people came to me to tell me that, look this is the way to go. Some showed me how to become Governor and how I must pass through certain rituals and some concoction and so many other things. I refused and told them that the same God who elevated me from nowhere, who lifted me from the grass and the lowest ebb of life is still capable of making me Governor.

I maintained that, and I believe that everybody in Benue state can conveniently say that it was God that did it. How I emerged with all the forces that were against me and how God took me through all the rigors was amazing. So I give him all the glory for where I am today. And I believe that I’ll surpass all the challenges I met on ground because I still have my faith in God. I believe that God will show me how to surmount the challenges.

Interesting. So how would you describe growing up? How would you remember your family?

It was challenging and tasking. Some people may see me today and say I’m a lucky chap. Yes, but I went through difficulties. It wasn’t easy. I remember, times in our family, my father had two wives and we were about sixteen in the family and it wasn’t easy, especially when he retired and I remember that my mother had to work day and night to ensure that we ate food.

Several times we had to stay for a whole day without food. There were days we had to live on 0-0-1, and even that once that we ate was not a complete meal. I remember when we had to eat from corn meal without soup but just salt and pepper to keep life going. I remember when school uniforms for the year were my Christmas wears and that was same with my brothers and sisters.

When children were going out in their Christmas clothes we were in our school uniforms. It was quite humiliating but we passed through all those. I remember when we went everywhere without shoes. Going to school without sandals, though others had, but we just went barefooted. I remember life was pretty difficult. I remember sleeping on the mat and waking up to find larva and ants on your body and you battled to pick them out.

I remember going to pick bones from the slaughter slab with which we made soup to eat. I remember the difficulties of going to the farm to make heaps for people in order to make money, carry heavy load on the head to make money in order to live. But one thing that I must appreciate God for is that despite these difficulties, I never went into any form of anti social vices, like we have today in the society.

That is what I keep telling our young ones today. The determination to succeed and the faith in God. It’s not by a wayward life, it’s not by taking to these vices that can lead you to prison or even untimely death. It is a matter of being focussed and being determine to succeed. God will always make a way for you especially when you know God. And so I appreciate God that all those have passed away and we are here.

In my little way, I have provided a better platform for my children and many other families that I can also reach because I do not want the children of others to pass through the harrowing experience I went through. I believe that with this privilege God has provided me I will add value to people’s lives and make life better for them than what I went through.

What is your message to the less privileged and downtrodden who are looking up to you as a role model.

Please I want appeal to them that the Bible says ‘seek yea first the kingdom of God and it’s righteousness and all other things shall be added unto you.’ When you seek God and His kingdom, you seek to do the right thing. You’ll seek to sow the right seed. And as you do, it will germinate and bear good fruits as it had happened to me.

When you give yourself to God, God will give you protection, God will provide and supply all that you need. And so I want our people who are down there to arise and join God who is our maker. He knows our challenges and problems, he is our creator who knows how and when to address our challenges.

He knows our needs, and he has the capacity to take away the challenges that we face. So my appeal to our people is that instead of going the other way, or going wayward, please come to God and find peace. The Bible says ‘come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’

That is the way to go, it is not by fighting, it is not by gossiping, it is not by envying, it is not by strive , it is not by might, it is not because you come from a particular place. Otherwise if you consider where I come from, a minority, obscure place in Tiv land, in fact one of the minutest tribes in Benue state where nobody is known, but today God has made me Governor of Benue state. So it can also apply to any other person, once you are faithful in serving God.

Remember I earlier quoted Job: 36 verse 11 which says “If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures. And verse 12 which also says, “But if they obey not, they shall perish by the sword, and they shall die without knowledge.” this is the recipe for success and failure.

Verse 11 talks about success and verse 12 talks about failure. And if you go to Deuteronomy 28 from verse 1 to 14, it talks about the reward for one who serves and obeys God, but for those who disobey God, verse 15 to 68 talks about the curses. That is what I have applied my life to in order to be where and what I am today.

Who were your schoolmates, are you still in touch with them?

I have so many school mates across the country, the ones from Idah Secondary Commercial College, my classmates and schoolmates from there will soon pay me a courtesy call. The group in my MBA class in BSU here will also soon come to show solidarity with me, the ADPM class has already paid me courtesy call, the ones in ABU have also done that already.

They are all proud of me and excited. And I have promised to make them proud . So that at the end of my tenure and Benue people are looking for my successor, they could identify one of my classmates to take over from me. They will definitely say that this man has done very well so we want one of his schoolmates to take over from where he stopped.

I am married with 10 children and four grand children. My hobbies include badminton, reading, philanthropy, farming, aerobics and evangelism. “ Governor Ortom’s parents are late now. How proud they would have been to see their son as governor of their state. His first wife left when things were tough for him.

culled from VANGUARD is your one-stop online news magazine blog. We report credible information as they happen. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get Latest Information.

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