‘In Benue under Ortom, government is all-inclusive’
AT his inauguration as the 5th civilian governor of Benue State on May 29, 2015, Samuel Ortom met a state that was in near total collapse of institutions and in dire need of proactive steps to restore confidence in the people about the state and its government.
As a purely Civil Service state, Benue was then characterized with non-payment of salaries of workers and public educational institutions like the Benue State University, College of Health Sciences and many others were already on strike due to huge amount of salary arrears and other entitlements.
More worrisome was the high rate of insecurity as many parts of the state were turned into theaters of violence, even as armed robbery, kidnapping, political killings, thuggery and cultism became the order of the day.
It was obvious that some youths were in possession of deadly weapons given to them by desperate politicians to cause mayhem. Political thugs were on rampage and they could walk into innocent people’s offices and homes to extort money and anyone that refused their bidding was dealt with creating an atmosphere that scared investors away.
At several occasions during his campaigns and during his inauguration, Ortom had vowed to turn the situation around in order to bring development to the state stressing that for complete forgiveness and reconciliation to take place, there must be measures for restitution to also take place.
It was in accordance with this desire that the governor decided to embark on serious consultation with critical stakeholders and show commitment by putting in place, several committees including a security committee, which has brought an end to the incessant rift between farmers and herdsmen in the state.
The governor further went ahead and announced an amnesty program to retrieve Illegal arms that were in the hands of unauthorized youths leading to recovery of large caches of arms and ammunition.
The youths that surrendered such ammunition, according to the governor, are going to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society as useful citizens to add their quota to the socio-economic development of the state.
The governor further summoned a stakeholders’ summit which was successfully held and which had in attendance, illustrious sons and daughters of the state from all the three senatorial zones. The clergies, business community, non-governmental organizations etc. all responded positively to the parley.
While addressing the audience on the amnesty program, Ortom said the scheme, being one of the promises he made in his inaugural address, became necessary to take a proactive step to clamp down on illegal-arms deal in the state. He disclosed that with the approval of Mr. President, the efforts of the clergy and traditional rulers, the state has recorded and collected over 400 arms and thousands of ammunition.
The governor’s zero tolerance for corruption has already send warning signals to all government officials who thought being in government service translate to diverting public funds into personal use without been punished. While sounding the warning, Ortom had reiterated severally that: “our philosophy emphasizes that public office remains an opportunity to offer quality service to the people. Those who intend to make money are being encouraged to get into the private sector to do business for which we are creating an enabling environment.”
The governor had earlier pledged that he shall constitute a participatory government in which citizens will have their say and way, and run a government that would promote the growth and development of Benue State in accordance with the democratic principles of due consultation, full disclosure, transparency, inclusive participation, responsive leadership, rule of law and due process.
On the state’s high wage bill and the ongoing staff audit, he said it is quite clear that there is something wrong; asserting that before he assumed power as governor of the state, people have died, some resigned or retired but the salary wage bill kept rising. This justifies the necessity for the current ongoing staff audit.
According to him, “I have inquired from my colleague in Plateau State, and he said his salary wage bill is about N1.8 billion. Surprisingly, Benue that was created out of same Benue Plateau has a wage bill of over N3 billion.”
And to further emphasize the transparency and accountability posture of his government, the governor informed the stakeholders that government has received the sum of N28 billion which is dedicated strictly to payment of salary arrears of workers with the organized labour movement in participation of the disbursement while the state has adopted Treasury Single Account (TSA).
He told the stakeholders that his administration met thousands of bags packed with sands that were kept in the Ministry of Agriculture as fertilizers but that the new government has begun the process of procuring new fertilizers for the next farming season adding that “We have restored confidence in government to eliminate the hitherto existing apathy. When we say no; our no is no. We are not a government of lies and liars.”
He therefore called on all the stakeholders irrespective of tribe, political party, religion or social divide, to critically study and make inputs into the draft development plan tagged “Our Collective Vision For A New Benue,” to move the state forward.
In his reaction at the parley, one of the stakeholders, Abu King Shuluwa, who spoke on behalf of Benue ‘Old PDP’ said they were very happy with Governor Ortom for this administrative exploits so far in his 100 Days .
His words, “We agree we made a mistake, but Your Excellency, we are watching you, if you make the same mistake of the past, we shall give you the opposition you have never imagined. But, my advice to you is that parties should be separated from government. If you call a meeting, it should be for Benue people and not APC. We give kudos to you so far. But for now, anybody hiding under PDP to say bad things about this government is not a member of my PDP – the original PDP.”
The elder statesman lauded Ortom’s stance on corruption saying, “You are doing well. Any body who has stolen Benue money should be made to bring back the money. If Jack Tilley Gyado has for instance, taken Benue money, he should be made to bring back the money. A lot of PDP members are here and we are watching you. If you go at stray we will deal with you ruthlessly.”
While Speaking on behalf of former governorship aspirants in the state, Dr. (Mrs.) Ada Chenge said all of them are already praying for Ortom to succeed in office adding, “Now that you have called on us to contribute, we really appreciate you; We will give you our support and shall continuously call our supporters to support you. But, you must be gender sensitive.”
Another illustrious son of the state and the first Professor in Tiv nation, Professor Justin Tseayo said what Governor Ortom has presented before them was similar to what former governor Suswam presented when he took over from George Akume. He however, retorted that a poor man is not the man without food but the man without a dream as he urged the governor not to be overwhelmed that he took over a Benue with empty treasury but to realize that he took over a Benue that is rich in resources.
According to Tseayo, “What is expected from you is to advance the concept of a Food Basket. That is our destination. It seems Benue State is politics all the time but it shouldn’t be so. People should find something to do. Benue does not need a Tiv governor or Igede governor or Idoma governor. What we need is a Benue governor.”
Addressing the meeting on behalf of himself and former senators in Benue State, Senator Jacob Gyado said, “I am not surprised that if you have a head of the fish that is rotten, the whole fish will be rotten. Our leader Senator George Akume is behind you. Your Excellency, it is difficult to shoot down a humble man. You have demonstrated humility right here before every Benue person here today. Please continue in that spirit. I tell you, it is very rare that God will give you money and leadership. You have chosen to be a leader and not a money monger. “
A retired Army General and chieftain of the APC, Lawrence Onoja, called on all Benue people to support and encourage Ortom in steering the affairs of the state, noting that so far the governor is doing well.
According to him, “All of us here should encourage Samuel Ortom, and I can see that he is doing well so far. But, all those found guilty of corruption should not only return the loot but also go to jail. I commend your amnesty programme. You are doing very well.”
Erstwhile National Chairman of the PDP, Senator Barnabas Gemade said Ortom’s style of governance mark the beginning of a new era as “running an all inclusive government is what is more important to State now. When you are not running an inclusive government so many people are locked out. The first step is to ensure that what ought to be in the kitchen is brought back.”
In his remark, former governor and Senator representing Benue North West District, George Akume also commended Ortom but advised the governor that the issue of education should be taken very seriously in the state. He further stressed that nobody should shy away from correcting the governor when he goes wrong.
Another illustrious son and immediate past Deputy Governor of the state, Chief Steven Lawani whose entrance into the venue was welcomed with admiration by the already-seated audience said, “You do not need to use binoculars and or microscope to see the achievement so far. Thank you all.”