By Tunde Olusunle
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, took a break from high octane political engagements to honour his wife, Eunice Erdoo Ortom, during the weekend of Saturday August 27, through Sunday August 28, 2022. The First Lady of the state which prides itself as the “food basket of the nation,” Eunice Erdoo Ortom, marked her golden birthday on that occasion. And 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 event, kicked off from the Redeemed Christian Church of God, (RCCG) “Signs and Wonders Mega Parish” on Gboko Road, Saturday August 27. The facility was virtually strained at its seams with the resplendent colour, quality of attendance and numbers, at the thanksgiving service. Aderemi Folasayo, Assistant Pastor in-charge of Region 8 of the RCCG, who doubles as Pastor in-charge of Benue Province 1, supported by his wife, led the officiating clergy at the ceremony. They included Pastor Ayoola Adeyanju, from the RCCG family in Lagos.
National Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP) and third republic senate president, Iyorchia Ayu who was accompanied by his wife, Herberta, led the list of dignitaries at the function. These included the running mate to the presidential candidate of the PDP and governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa and the deputy governor of Benue State, Benson Abuonu and his wife, Justice Mary Abuonu. The Chief Judge of Benue State, Justice Andover Ka’Kaan, was equally present. Senators representing Benue State in the national parliament notably Emmanuel Yisa Orker Jev (Benue North West) and Abba Moro (Benue South), were present. Members of the lower federal parliament representing various constituencies in Benue State, were also at the service.
Wife of longserving former president of the Senate, David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, Helen, as well as former ranking member of the House of Representatives who once served as Speaker pro-tempore, Terngu Tsegba, featured at the programme. Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Titus Tyoapine Uba and his wife, honoured the church service. Chairman of the Benue State council of traditional rulers 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, were also in attendance. Wives of the governors of Nasarawa State, Silifat Sule; Taraba, Anne Darius-Ishaku, and Nkechi Rochas-Okorocha, wife of the former governor of Imo State, graced the programme.
Former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) Farida Waziri; one-time Minster for Power and Steel, and Health, respectively, Iyorwuese Harry Hagher; wife of the Inspector-General of Police, (IGP), Hassana Baba-Usman and wife of the representative of the Chairperson of the Nigerian Army Officers’ Wives Association, (NAOWA), Maimunat Amadi, featured at the event. Elected and appointed officials under the Benue 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, (MDAs), were at the church programme in their numbers. The leadership of the PDP at various levels in the state, as well as stakeholders were at the event in good numbers.
Ortom who spoke on behalf of his family, observed that as a rule, he was not particularly 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 those days, 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, who 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 celebration, the people of Benue 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 very 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, (SSG), introduced that segment of the celebrations, while Sebastian Hon, also an SAN, delivered one of the tributes.
Events commemorating Eunice Ortom’s 50th, continued on Sunday August 28, 2022, at the NKST Church in Gbajimba, hometown of the Ortoms, in Guma local government area of the state. The broad canvas of attendees was a demonstration of genuine affection for the celebrant and her family. Notable guests at the Gbajimba function included John Dyegh, (representing Gboko/Tarka) and Bem Benjamin Mzondu, (Makurdi/Guma) federal constituencies respectively. 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 who featured at the thanksgiving, while 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 Ortom was born August 27, 1972, in Jos, capital of Plateau State. She attended the Nativity Private School, Makurdi and the Queen of Rosary Secondary School, Gboko, Benue State, for her primary and secondary schools, respectively, between 1977 and 1988. She obtained a bachelors degree in international relations from ABU, Zaria in 1997, before completing the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC) programme in 1999. She subsequently acquired a masters 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 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, (IDPs), 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 has 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 Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, (JAMB), Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, (UTME), 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.
Eunice Erdoo Ortom rides on the crest of tremendous respect and goodwill in Benue State and the country at large. Prof. Member Eugenia George-Genyi, Director, Centre for Gender Studies, BSU, Makurdi acknowledges “her humble touch to the vulnerables in the society: the poorest of the poor, the women-folk and those with disabilities.” Abuonu, deputy governor of the state 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 Eunice Ortom’s “leadership and motherly contributions to the development of women in Benue State in particular, and Nigeria in general. Amina Titi Atiku-Abubakar, wife of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, in her own despatch, prayed that Mrs Ortom will continue to “grow in wisdom, knowledge and understanding, while Bisi Fayemi, Chairperson, Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum, (NIGWF), described her as “a model of grace, generosity and compassion.”
In the evening of Monday August 30, 2022, 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, author and scholar, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).