Why Benue People Want Governor Ortom Out [Must Read]
By Godwin Idoko Ameh
The 2015 election was full of intrigues. It was indeed a crossroad for the people of Benue state having been battered by the poor performance of the then government of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by Ex-Governor, Gabriel Suswam.
In all fairness, Suswam’s first tenure was decent, however his second was just not encouraging. Amongst many problems, perhaps the greatest was the issue of non-payment of salaries, and the levity and impunity with which the serious issues were handled.
Civil servants worked for several months without pay, pensioners same, with public primary and tertiary institutions all closed down for almost a year. The consequent state-wide poverty and hunger was unacceptable, causing the people to sort a new direction of hope.
Also at that time was a certain Dr Samuel Ortom who had just resigned from his portfolio as the Minister for Trade and Investment. He too was battered after being denied the PDP gubernatorial ticket and sought a new platform to actualise his ambition to govern the state.
Meanwhile, a new party called the All Progressives Congress (APC) was the newest political spouse of the people, promising a change from the status quo of bad governance, corruption, unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment which was quite interesting.
With a people badly in need of all that the APC were promising on one hand, Dr Ortom desperately in need of a political platform on the other and with a common enemy in the People’s Democratic Party, the basis for affinity was defined and set.
Dr Ortom decamped into the APC and grabbed, albeit unconventionally, the gubernatorial ticket and with the people keying into his prospects and the hope for a better life, the election was won.
On 29th May 2015, Dr Samuel Ortom was sworn in as the Governor of Benue state with the highest support and goodwill of the entire people of the state to succeed and bury the demons of their collective pasts.
However, just over three years down the line, the public opprobium against Governor Ortom is alarming. What started on a high note is now being driven into the ground; the people’s goodwill have significantly eroded.
And with rife rumours of a rift between the Governor and his erstwhile political benefactor, Senator George Akume, the former seems to be walking on thin ice at the moment as he seeks re-election for a second tenure.
Suffice to ask, where did it all go wrong? Why do the people want Governor Ortom out of office?
- Non-payment of salaries
Salaries are the mainstay of the economy of Benue state. Despite being known as the food basket of the nation, the state and its workers still largely depend on monthly disbursements from the federal government to meet their needs.
Consequently, any Governor that threatens this source of livelihood will never be in the good books of the people.
Former Governor Suswam left office owing three months salaries and that could easily explain why his party, the PDP lost the gubernatorial election while he also failed to win the Benue North-east senatorial seat he contested for.
Governor Ortom today is owing salaries upwards of 10 months and uncountable months of pensions despite ample special interventions from the federal government (FG), monthly allocations, internally generated revenue (IGR) and loans enough to clear them.
They include FG bailout (N28 billion), LNG funds (N2.7 billion), first and second tranche of Paris club debt refund (N12.7 billion, N6.8 billion respectively), budget support (N13 billion cumulatively), loans (N10 billion, N5.5 billion, N10 billion) and IGR for 2015, 2016 and 2017 (N7.6 billion, N8.4 billion and 12.4 billion respectively) which in total, amounts to about N117 billion.
This figure does not include the monthly allocations from federal government to the state. How these monies have not resulted in regular payment of salaries and pensions, and commensurate infrastructural development within this period is beyond human comprehension.
- Politics of wage bill and ghost workers
The true wage bill of the state remains a mystery till date. What began at N3.7bn per month has continued to rise despite the fact that no massive employment have been carried out in the state during this period.
Seems the wage bill changes with every interview the Governor grants, the latest being N7.8 billion when he was interviewed on channels TV last week. The governor blames this on ghost workers and have for over three years claimed to be trying to eliminate them with little success.
The consequence of this hike in the wage bill is that, whatever monies accrue to the state whether it be monthly allocation, LNG, Paris club debt refunds, bailout, budget support, loans or internally generated revenue, the gigantopithecal wage bill guzzles everything even with a deficit, leaving nothing left to pay salaries and carry out projects.
- Reckless and lavish expenditure
Prior to his inauguration, Governor-elect, Samuel Ortom said these words:
“… if you talk of government not being able to pay salaries and see what government operatives are doing, in terms of personal things, it sends a wrong signal all together that something is wrong.” However, this same ugly scenario is what has characterised his administration.
Despite decrying lack of funds as reason for inability to pay salaries and carry out projects, government officials have continued to live lavish with investments that far outweigh their stipulated remuneration.
In July 2015, just two months into his tenure when the situation was still very precarious, Governor Ortom approved the purchase of exotic vehicles for government officials to the tune of N1.3 billion out of the N10 billion loan he took.
More recently, pickup vans worth N19 million each, amounting to about half a billion Naira, were purchased for the 23 local government chairpersons and other government officials who already have official vehicles.
Estacodes for the several trips to Asia in search of investors and for leisure has also taken its toll on states meagre resources.
Perhaps also, the tremendous prosperity of the Governor’s personal businesses in contrast with the impoverished condition of the state under his leadership also, in his own words, sends the wrong message.
- Self-distraction and Obscession with Suswam
For the magnitude of problems inherited by Governor Ortom, it was shocking to see the amount of time he had for his predecessor, Gabriel Suswam. Never taking responsibility, there was hardly any speech made without a significant part dedicated to his predecessor.
Till today, despite all the monies given by the Federal government to clear salaries owed, the present government still blames the 10 months salaries they are owing on the 3 months unpaid salaries left by Suswam.
The collapse of security in the state is also being blamed on Suswam who is currently standing trial for matters not unconnected to same. The huge wage bill, ghost workers and inability to sanitize the state civil service are all being blamed on his predecessor, likewise, the lack of commissionable projects.
- Handling of security in the state
Prior to May 2015 when Governor Ortom assumed office, there was a basal level of insecurity but the situation has become unprecedented in the last three years.
Shortly after Governor Ortom assumed duty, he launched an amnesty programme wherein armed criminals were encouraged to give up their life of crime and weapons, and in exchange get rewarded and rehabilitated.
This initiative saw about 900 youths turn in their weapons and of particular interest was a certain notorious gang leader, Terwase Akawza who single-handedly submitted over 100 assorted rifles, explosives, rocket launchers and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
He was, in exchange given a lucrative revenue contract without any form of rehabilitation.
Several months later, he was fingered in the murder of one of the Governor’s aides and has since been at large. That also marked the demise of the amnesty programme with the repented criminals returning back to the trenches.
Another and perhaps the greatest security problem in the state has been the incessant invasion and killings in communities across the state by Fulani herdsmen seeking greener pastures for their cattle, though a perennial problem, has been accentuated in the last three years with hundreds killed.
In fairness to the Governor, he has been on this issue and have tried various methods of solving it, the latest being the enactment of a law for the prohibition of open- grazing and establishment of ranches in the state.
The law in itself is good but its implementation has been hampered partly by the lack of interest from the federal government and the state’s lack of constitutional power over the security agencies.
However, the recent indictment and arrest of the Governor’s aide and head of the livestock guard, a former spokesperson of dreaded terrorist group, Boko Haram have raised more questions than answers concerning the government’s role in the crisis and has not helped to change the mindset of the presidency who see the accentuated killings as politically motivated.
- Lack of commissionable projects
Apart from projects carried out by the Sustainable Development Goals office through counterpart funding from by the state government, not a single project have been commissioned in Benue State in the last three years and it doesn’t look likely to happen before next year’s election.
Even the N10 billion loan taken for construction of roads as critical infrastructure has not worked; at some point the government said it would need to stop the projects and concentrate on salaries but the people got neither of them.
For a mandate that was investment in critical infrastructure and Agriculture-driven industrialisation as two of its five pillars, this abysmal showing has not helped the Governor’s argument for a second chance.
- Inappropriate appointments
The Governor himself has come out to blame his appointees for not having his back enough, however there’s a saying that, “a bad workman blames his tools”.
A run through the gamut of government appointees, it’ll be obvious that most of them were made from a political point of view rather than otherwise. The technocrats were given non-potent advisory roles with no budgetary allocations while others are clearly square pegs in round holes.
Else, how do you explain the appointment of a third-world banker as Commissioner for Information?
The Commissioner of Finance is an expert in agriculture while that of Agriculture has expertise in business management and would best fit as Finance Commissioner, to mention but a few.
Vibrant, talented but unemployed youths who should provide a pool of novel ideas for the government have been licensed to manage and launder the Governor’s image on social media by slandering anyone who dares to express dissenting opinion.
The outcome of this kind of salad of inappropriately mixed fruits is predictably the failure we are witnessing today.
The Idoma and Igede minorities in Benue-south senatorial district have also complained of being sidelined and not given adequate representation amongst the Governor’s appointments unlike the previous government.
These reasons, to mention but a few, are the reason for the apathy towards the administration of Governor Samuel Ortom who, like I said earlier, took off on the highest note in terms of goodwill of the people including that of the author of this piece.
Godwin Ameh writes from Makurdi