Image: Governor Samuel Ortom
It’s been roughly five months since Governor Samuel Ortom took over the mantle of leadership in Benue State and inasmuch as he has tried to steady the ship, there have been flaws, avoidable flaws.
Needless to emphasise the rot he inherited from ex-Governor Gabriel Suswam. President Buhari summarised the situation with these words in his independence speech, ” My countrymen and women, every new government inherits problems. Ours was no different. But what Nigerians want are solutions, quick solutions not a recitation of problems inherited.” And Benue is not any different.
The people of Benue State hoped for quick solutions that sadly have not happened in the last five months, partly due to the antecedents of rot passed on and also partly due to the inadequacies of the new administration.
Without further delay, here are five flaws of Governor Ortom’s Government within the last five months:
1. Benue State University Strike: Too Slow
The problem of unpaid salaries gave birth to a lot of other problems and the strike embarked by lecturers of Benue State University was one of the first confronting Governor Ortom when he assumed office. For whatever reason, even after the governor secured an N10bn Naira loan, he drags his feet on resolving the issue. When he eventually conceded to the lecturer’s initial demands, it was too late. Rumours of bailout began to filter in which made the lecturers changed the demands.
It took another two months or so for the strike to end, on terms that would have been sorted much earlier. The strike presented an opportunity for the Governor to emphatically announce his arrival but he failed to shine.
2. Appointments: Too Slow and Lackluster
This is an area that the Governor was expected to stamp his feet especially that of the Benue Internal Revenue Service, BIRS. For a debt stricken state, this would have been the first area of attack but it took four months to settle for someone and as I write, I doubt if Mrs Orubibi has assumed office. Other areas such as BERWASA and BENSESA are begging for such proactive appointments to no avail.
Some appointments have been commendable but others are just laughable and in all sincerity, those lack the capacity to deliver on the mandate of their portfolios. I’m not out to attack anyone but it’s already obvious in five months. It cuts across the whole administration including commissioners, advisers and caretaker local government chairmen.
3. Plans Galore With No Known Direction
In the first few months that the Governor assumed office, the media was awash with plans and plans unlimited with a known blueprint. Even if the blueprint was known the governor and his kitchen cabinet, he failed to carry the people along.
The lack of clarity of vision and stratification of plans in short, medium and long term goals have made the government to ignore more pressing issues like payment of salaries, sanitation, roads and revenue generation in pursuance of things that may not be feasible in years to come.
Check out some of the headlines that emerged:
– Benue plans food processing factory
– Benue plans international carnival
– Benue to build airport
– Benue to organise security summit
– Benue plans to merge BSU, Akperan Orshi College of Agric
– Benue to organise Youth Summit
– Benue to revamp Taraku mills, others
– Benue to establish drug rehabilitation centres
– Benue to introduce new system of waste collection
– Benue to revamp old media outfits
– Benue to establish ICT agency
These, to mention but a few, would have made sense if the blueprint was unveiled immediately after inauguration so that the people will know where the administration is heading to.
4. Salad of Ever-Changing Figures
If the Governor Ortom was not sure about the final figure of Benue’s debt profile, he would have remained silent on the issue until all investigations were concluded. Rather he ran to the media with figures that would change every now and then. This has brought a big dent on the government and in my opinion, it was wrong to bring figures in the front burner.
When the Governor announced that the state debt profile amounted to N90bn from the initial smaller figures, he gave the breakdown as “N50 billion for ongoing contracts, N18 billion for certified ones, N12 billion for salary arrears and about N10 billion for bonds and bank loans.”
Those figures have since changed to N130bn, N150bn, so on and so forth. The question is, based on what figures have we arrived at the N28bn bailout funds? It definitely may have been undervalued or overvalued.
Also, over the months, different figures have been quoted as wage bill and overhead for the state. At the time when the state PDP complained about the apparently fraudulent-looking increase, the government explained that “the wage bill of the State rose from N2.7 billion to N3.7 billion because the APC led government has resumed payment of full salaries and overheads earlier abandoned by the immediate past administration.”
The Governor also confirmed this on July 4th when he met with journalist at the Benue Peoples House.
“And may interest you to know that for the month of May, the salaries including pensions and overheads, we had to cough out N3.7 billion and if the same thing applies to June, it means salaries for the two months will be N7.4 billion.” he said while explaining the N10bn loan. Five days later during a meeting with second class chiefs at the Och’Idoma’s palace in Otukpo, the Governor reiterated that the state has a monthly wage bill of N3.7 billion including overheads noting that apart from the bailout, the state government would improve on its internal revenue sources to enable it sustain payment of salaries and pensioners.”
Fast forward to October 6th 2015, Governor Ortom in a press release by his Special Adviser on Media and ICT, is quoted saying ” the state received only N2.6 billion as last month’s allocation while the salary wage bill for state workers for September was over N3.4 billion WITHOUT overheads adding that since salaries were a priority additional funds would be sourced to pay WITHOUT the overheads.”
This means if overheads (N800m) are added, our new monthly expenditure is N4.2bn. The question is: what has changed since the first announcements and now to warrant this hike in wage bill? Why the disparity in figures?
5. Bailout, Delays in payment of salaries and cacophony of screening exercises
Whilst we must agree that the issue of bailout funds and when they’ll be ready solely depends on the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and is out of the Governor’s hands, there are question marks over undue delays in the payment of regular salaries in the state. Immediate past governor, Gabriel Suswam used to pay salaries as early as the 21st day of the month before he hit the rocks; other Governors are doing same today, so one begins to wonder why Benue workers can’t be paid until deep into the next month.
Benue is an agrarian state but its economy runs on salaries from government. It’s not fiction. Decades of poor administration, lack of initiative and poverty of ideas have given birth to this fact. Just like a Fulani man’s cattle, any administration that delays and/or denies Benue people of their salaries will not be in their good books and will collapse. Governor Ortom had better taken note of this.
Lastly is the multitude of screening con verification exercises that have thrown both workers and government into confusion. I heard state assembly members too have joined the fray with their own screening of workers. The exercise is good in its intention of fishing out ghost workers but this one is uncoordinated and atypical of a change from what we used to have, if not worse.
Some will argue that Governor Ortom has four year tenure on his cards and it’s therefore unfair to make an objective appraisal in five months, but I disagree “Early to bed, early to rise”, four years isn’t as much as we think. Early signs have shown the good qualities of Governor Ortom but that alone is not enough. Whatever are the reasons behind the restricted showing, the he needs to sit back and take a good look at his machinery of governance and how he can best convey his good intentions to the people who still believe he has the capacity to turn Benue around.
For now though, Benue has not witnessed the vibrancy, proactive vigour, command and change they voted for in these five months.
Gabriel Ochoga can be reached on: email@example.com