Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom took a break from high octane political engagements to honour his wife, Eunice Erdoo Ortom the other weekend. The First Lady of the state, which prides itself as the “food basket of the nation,” Mrs Ortom marked her golden birthday on that occasion. And Governor Ortom pulled all the stops to celebrate and honour a conscientious, diligent and loyal spouse who has persevered and weathered life’s storms and tempests with him, displaying a hitherto unknown side of himself. The celebration package was a delightful bouquet of church thanksgiving services, receptions and cultural performances.
Events commemorating the landmark celebration kicked off from the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) “Signs and Wonders Mega” parish on Gboko Road, Saturday 27 August. The facility was virtually strained at its seams with the resplendent colour, quality of attendance and numbers at the thanksgiving service. Assistant Pastor in-charge of Region 8 of the RCCG, Aderemi Folasayo, who doubles as Pastor in-charge of Benue Province 1, supported by his wife, led the officiating clergy. They included Pastor Ayoola Adeyanju, from the RCCG family in Lagos.
National Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), who was also Senate President, Dr Iyorchia Ayu was accompanied by his wife, Herberta. He led the list of dignitaries at the function. These included the PDP Vice Presidential candidate, Governor Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa; Benue State Deputy Governor Benson Abuonu and his wife, Justice Mary Abuonu; and Chief Judge of the state, Justice Andover Ka’Kaan. Two of the Senators representing Benue State in the national parliament – Emmanuel Yisa Orker Jev (Benue North West) and Patrick Abba Moro (Benue South) – were present; as well as members of the lower chamber of the National Assembly representing various constituencies in the state.
Wife of long-serving former Senate President David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, Helen; so were former ranking member of the House of Representatives who once served as Speaker pro-tempore, Terngu Tsegba; Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Titus Tyoapine Uba and his wife; Chairman of the the state Council of Traditional Tulers and the Tor Tiv, Orchivirigh (Prof.) James Ortese Iorzua Ayatse and his deputy who is also the Och’Idoma, Agaba Idu, Pastor John Elaigwu Odogbo; wives of the governors of Nasarawa State, Silifat Sule; Taraba, Anne Darius-Ishaku; and wife of the former Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, Nkechi.
The roll call included former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Farida Waziri; former Minster for Power and later, Steel, Iyorwuese Harry Hagher; wife of the Inspector-General of Police, Hassana Baba-Usman; representative of the Chairperson of the Nigerian Army Officers’ Wives Association, Maimunat Amadi; elected and appointed officials under the state government, notably parliamentarians, members of the state Executive Council, principal officers to the Governor, senior members of the bureaucracy and heads of ministries, departments and agencies, leadership of the PDP at various levels in the state, as well as other stakeholders.
Ortom, who spoke on behalf of his family, observed that as a rule, he was not inclined towards marking birthdays of any kind. He, however, had to make an exception to his long-held tradition by decidedly honouring his wife because she is an exceptional personality. According to him: “We were at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria together. She was studying for a degree programme, while I was running a diploma course. Not for one day did she despise me or view me with condescension given the very well known, continually raging contest for supremacy between degree and diploma courses”.
Continuing, Ortom noted that: “It was the practice those days for big men to send exotic cars and buses to the university to pick up female students for parties and social events which held in Kaduna or Kano. This lady was never found participating in such programmes or events. She is true and through a virtuous woman.” Ortom was not done: “I need to celebrate this woman deservedly. Things were rough during those early days as we tried to find our feet as a couple”. Gesturing in the direction of their kids, Ortom noted: “Then the children began to come, beginning with Solomon. My wife had only one wrapper, ankara, which will usually be messed up by the baby. In the evenings before bedtime, she will wash that single wrapper and hang it to dry for use the next day. That was how we managed”.
The Benue State helmsman brought the humane, humorous side of him to play when he declared to the amusement and laughter of the congregation: “For who she is, for what she has endured on my behalf, for her conscientious affection and loyalty, I hereby declare publicly that Eunice Erdoo Ortom is my one and only babe! And you can take that to the bank, please”.
The congregation spontaneously erupted in rich laughter and applause. Continuing, Ortom noted further: “People perceive me as a hard man, a difficult customer. But this is one woman God has given me has softens and mellows that tough part of me”.
The heavy downpour which began at the tail end of the church programme was no deterrent to mass attendance at the post-event reception held in the resplendent banquet hall of Government House, Makurdi. Excited hosts of the birthday celebrator, the people of the state themselves and their guests alike flocked the venue in numbers. The cooling system of the facility was evidently constrained. Even at that, however, the best of homemade Benue cuisines and continental dishes; choice beverages – wines, lagers, non-alcoholic drinks – were generously dispensed at the programme. The music was just adequate for the event, even as tributes and applause poured in torrents for the celebrant. Prof. Tony Ijohor, SAN, who is Secretary to the State Government, introduced that segment of the celebrations, while Sebastian Hon, also a SAN, delivered one of the tributes.
The commemorate events continued on Sunday at the NKST Church in Gbajimba, hometown of the Ortoms, in Guma Local Government Area (LGA. The broad canvas of attendees was a demonstration of genuine affection for the celebrator and her family. Notable guests at the Gbajimba function included John Dyegh, representing Gboko/Tarka federal constituency; Bem Benjamin Mzondu of Makurdi/Guma federal constituencies; Williams Ortyom, representing Guma State constituency in the Benue State House of Assembly was one of the chief hosts; Tor Lobi 1 Moses Mfave Anagende was at the head of traditional rulers; and Rev Terhemba Iorshagher was the lead clergy. An enthusiastic congregation held their guests up for five long hours before releasing them for lunch in Ortom’s country home.
Eunice Erdoo was born 27 August 1972 in Jos, Plateau State. Between 1977 and 1988, she attended the Nativity Private School, Makurdi and the Queen of Rosary Secondary School, Gboko, Benue State, for her primary and secondary schools. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from ABU in 1997 before completing the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps programme in 1999. She subsequently acquired a Master’s in International Relations and Strategic Studies in 2004, and a Doctorate in Political Science in 2015, both from the Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi. She gained requisite public and private service experience having served in various MDAs and organisations over a period of 15 years. Her union with Governor Samuel Ortom is blessed with six biological children, and several other adopted and fully integrated children.
In Benue State, she is generally acknowledged as an activist and development-minded leader of women, who has continually pushed for increased women recognition and participation in governance and administration. It is to her credit that nine out of the 23 LGA chairmanship positions in the state are held by women. She has also championed major public enlightenment programmes on drug abuse, HIV/AIDS and vulnerable children, among others. She was at the fore of awareness creation about COVID-19 and the management of communicable diseases engendered by the reality of Internally Displaced Persons, in several camps across the state.
Dr Ortom has also been very visible in promoting literacy and education, courtesy of the several programmes and competitions she initiated. She has awarded hundreds of scholarships to students of secondary schools and tertiary institutions, including those with disabilities. She has equally enabled many otherwise indigent students to write the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations, paving the way for the actualisation of the dreams of many young people for higher education. This is not discounting her economic and agricultural empowerment schemes for women and youths. Also worthy of note are the vocational and technical skills strengthening initiatives she has anchored.
Dr Ortom rides on the crest of tremendous respect and goodwill in Benue State and the country at large. Prof. Eugenia George-Genyi, Director of Centre for Gender Studies, BSU acknowledges “her humble touch to the vulnerables in the society: the poorest of the poor, the women-folk and those with disabilities”. Abuonu, the state’s deputy governor, observes that at various times in the political evolution of the state, he has worked with three First Ladies. Much as Eunice Ortom may be the youngest of the lot, she has demonstrated maturity, humility, carriage and composure well beyond her years. This, he observed, makes her rightly and fittingly the “Mother of Benue State”.
In her goodwill message, wife of the President, Aisha Muhammadu-Buhari saluted Dr Ortom’s “leadership and motherly contributions to the development of women in Benue State in particular, and Nigeria in general. In her own despatch, Amina Titi Atiku-Abubakar, wife of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar prayed that Mrs Ortom will continue to “grow in wisdom, knowledge and understanding”, while Bisi Fayemi, Chairperson of Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum described her as “a model of grace, generosity and compassion”.
On Monday evening, folk performers took the stage in the banquet hall of Government House, Makurdi with serenading Tiv cultural performances. This was the round up of a fitting, three-day, back-to-back celebration of a most deserving daughter, sister, wife, confidant, inspirer and mother of the state. The famous, serial award-winning Benue State Council for Arts and Culture led the outings of singers like Gabons Akuhe, Tsaga, Golozo and Seem U Tiv, among a host of performers. Collectively, they delivered an appropriate denouement to the string of events for the birthday programme, invoking audience participation in parts.
Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors