JOHNSON BABAJIDE reports on the controversial snake farm purportedly owned by Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, who has denied the allegation, stating, that he had spent lots of money treating more than one million snake-bite victims in the past 20 years.
IN the last few weeks, one of the biggest news trending in Benue State has been an existing snake farm, which, for an unexplained reason, has been linked to the state governor, Samuel Ortom.
The snake story was strengthened by the reality that some farmers in the state, residents of Logo, Gwer West, Guma and Tarka council areas and students of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, had fallen been bitten by snakes bite until it became the subject of discussion among residents of the state, particularly, the capital city of Makurdi on a daily basis at public places with some alleging that the governor was endangering the lives of people he swore to protect.
To compound the problem, it was reported by the media that Nigeria Customs Service had intercepted some containers of snakes, snails, C0ckroaches and other items at the Calabar port, in transit from Cameroon. This report was skewed and posted online as a proof of the earlier report.
While investigating the story Sunday Tribune made an independent tour of Oracle farm situated along Naka road in Makurdi including others in the governor’s country home in Guma local government area of the state.
Before getting to Oracle farm Sunday Tribune had taken precautions knowing full well that it was a dangerous mission. At the end of the trip which lasted two days, there was no area suggesting the existence of a snake farm. On some of these farms where animals are reared at all, what could be seen on them were grass cutters, snails, fish ponds and cattle.
But experts who spoke with Sunday Tribune maintained that snake farms are legitimate business and are not forbidden, but such farms should be well taken care of so as not to endanger the lives of people.
Snakes according to an agriculturist, Mr James Tondoo, are reared for two major reasons: research, and as a source of food. The research may involve collection of venom, as a source of getting anti-venom substances. Many snake farms, he said, are primarily tourist attractions.
Further investigation revealed that a snake farm is a profitable agriculture business opportunity in which the farmer could have a big source of anti-venom used extensively in manufacturing pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
However, while weighing the two options of a snake farm endangering lives, if not properly handled and its economic value, the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr James Anbua, was quick to dismiss the positive value of snake farms.
The commissioner, who spoke against the background of allegations that Governor Ortom might have ventured into snake farming because of economic benefits, said that the question is whether there are pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries in the state that could patronise such farms.
Anbua told Sunday Tribune that breeding or rearing snakes in any part of the state is not only untraditional but also evil. He explained that over the years, the only traditional farms are those where crops like yam, soya beans, corn, cassava and rice are cultivated, including others where animals like grass-cutters, rabbits, cattle, fish and other animals are reared.
“But to talk of saying someone rears snakes in this state is not true, because it is alien to Benue culture. I don’t know anybody who rears snakes in Benue. Anybody that is known for rearing snakes is someone that can be described as evil. Therefore, nobody can have or think of having snake farm in Benue,” he said.
He added that linking Governor Ortom is malicious. ‘It is very bad for anyone to think that a good leader like Governor Ortom whose main prayer is to lift the people of the state from shackles of poverty and ignorance would engage in things that could inflict pains on the people he serves.
“He has been a great farmer for the past 20 years. I know that he is involved in crop and animal farms, like rice, corn, fish, grass-cutters, snails but definitely not a snake farm.
Also speaking, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr Terver Akase, also frowned on the allegation of owning a snake farm against the governor.
“That report on the intercepted consignments in Calabar which was skewed and published on facebook by opposition members in Benue State is proof that most of these young men who call themselves opposition on social media are bereft of any idea to help develop their state. The cacophony of ridiculous lies they posted claiming that Governor Ortom is the owner of the intercepted consignments is not only false; it is also shameful,” he said.
Shortly after his return from United Kingdom after two weeks of leave, the governor himself who met the trending snake story doing the rounds spoke on it.
Governor Ortom while denying the allegation, submitted that he dreaded snakes and would kill all the snakes terrorising the peasant farmers across the state if had the opportunity.
He further disclosed that he had had spent N33 million within three months on victims of snake bite in the state, adding that he had been treating snake bite victims for the past 20 years through his non-governmental organisation, (NGO).
While admitting that snakes have economic value, the governor said he would not forbid anyone who approaches his government to set up snake farms in the state, saying: “There is nothing wrong for anybody to go into any kind of farming, including snake farm, which the constitution of Nigeria permits. But that “it is ridiculous and callous” for anybody to associate him with snakes farming.
“Having witnessed loss of lives as a result of snake bite, I decided to run a foundation that was specifically established to cater for the poor and peasant farmers in the rural areas that are bitten by snakes but have no means of treatment.
“I have the mandate from God several years ago to assist victims of snake bite in our state and I have been doing this with my hard-earned money. Many lives have been saved as a result of this and I am happy to do it. People should rather encourage someone who is committed to saving lives and philanthropy rather than destroy the person,” he admonished.