Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, at the weekend spoke with journalists on the recent recovery of N4.5 billion bond proceeds, why he is bent on reopening the Benue State University shut by striking workers, a second term, as well as his relationship with retired former Lagos State Police Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav and other issues. Excerpts:
Can you explain the NN4.5 billion recovery which you talked about a few days ago?
The issue is very clear, like we said; the whole process was anchored on falsehood, forgery and lies, that was what we discovered. As you are aware, bonds are meant for specific projects, in the case of Benue State this particular one was meant for 13 projects. These included the Daudu-Gbajimba road, Oshigbudu-Obagaji road, Wannune-Igbor road, Zaki-Biam-Afia road, Oju-Obussa-Utonkon road, the water projects in Otukpo and Katsina-Ala, all together about 13 projects. When this money came instead of channeling this money to these specific projects that this bond was approved for, it was used to service overdraft of N4.5 billion. That was where we had issues. We engaged a consultant who approached the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, and wrote a petition. SEC did an investigation and decided that this money should go back to the original use. That is what has been credited to our own account so that we can go ahead and complete those projects that originally this bond was collected for. I think I’m understood. Now the issue of overdraft and those documents that were written and used to offset the overdraft were forged by the past administration, that is where we are having a case with them. There was no executive council meeting on the day the purported extract was obtained and given to the bank that exco directed that that money should be converted to overdraft. There was no exco but the extract was generated, so it was just packaged. All the other documents that were written to the bank on this matter were not in the file and all the reference numbers were forged so this is where we have a case. But the former Governor instead of looking at the main issues bought a page in The Nation of 8th June, 2017 and denied that he collected this money. I’m not surprised. He denied selling Benue State shares in the Benue Cement Company, he denied selling Benue State shares in Julius Berger, but they were sold and the evidence is there. These are the issues. Actually they collected overdraft amounting to N4.5 billion. This we have verified from the bank and we agreed that we do not have the resources to talk of paying the overdraft within one month or sixty days as the case may be so we have to restructure. We have agreed with the bank that we will restructure the overdraft and repay in a period of four years. This is about N136 million a month. This is the issue.
The former Governor, who happens to be the APC leader in the state, at the time he was going, is said to have also collected N2.8 billion from the coffers of the state, maybe he also followed that precedent…Do you think this is normal in a democratic process…
I don’t know about the former Governor, he did not hand over to me and I don’t want to talk about that, all those things you’re talking about I’m just hearing about it for the first time so I can’t respond to something that I have no knowledge of. But I’m talking about the one I took over from.
Benue State University lecturers appear to have ignored the executive order to return to work, what would you say?
Nobody ignored my executive orders, I sent it to council and I’m yet to have a response from them. I understand they’re meeting next week; nobody has ignored my orders to reopen the school. I’m bent on opening the school. I think I’ve done so much. You are journalists who can confirm from other state universities, even federal universities including the one in Makurdi, how they’re faring. Check in Kogi, check in Plateau, check in Katsina, and check in Ebonyi, check all other states that have state universities whether what I’m doing is not better than these universities or not.
Your Information Commissioner told us that massive fraud has been discovered in that university; is the state government planning to institute a probe?
We have to sanitize the place because every month, out of the N2.5 billion I get from the Federation Account, I cough out N570 million to pay to Benue State University alone. I compared notes with some of my colleagues. In Ebonyi for instance, they pay N200 million; in Nasarawa, it’s N183, in Plateau it’s even less, though I admit that Benue State University is a bigger and maybe an older university but I think that is too much. There are too many people hanging around there without doing anything.
Two days after a group of youths urged you to seek a second term some people from the opposition kicked against it saying for the past two years you’ve not done anything…Do you think what you’ve done is enough for you to declare no vacancy in Government House in 2019?
What do you expect the opposition to say, the people who are still dreaming that Ortom is Governor? I’ve been here and they’ll continue to criticize anything I do. When have you heard them praising me? Are you not enjoying security in Benue State today? Are you not seeing the massive development of our primary schools in Benue State? Have you not seen the massive construction of rural roads, bridges and all that? Have you not seen our agricultural policy? You’re the best people to judge, not me. But the truth of the matter is what I told those people, I’m a product of divine intervention. In 1992 I told the whole world that God said I was going to be Governor. In 2012, precisely 20 years, God told me it was going to be realized in 2015 and by the grace of God, with all the hurdles and the challenges that came, I overcame them and I’m Governor. I’m going back to the same God when that time comes. Now, I don’t want to be distracted, I’m doing my work. When that time comes, when the program is rolled out I’ll go back to God on my knees and ask God should I go back? If God says I should go I’ll go and nobody will defeat me that I can assure you. If God says relax, my son, I’m ready to go back to my farm and my business. It’s as simple as that.
Recently you signed the anti-open grazing law and other states are following suit, would you say peace has finally come to Benue with this new law?
I’m optimistic that peace has come, but that is giving leadership, what we did in Benue State. We have given leadership and we believe that this is the only thing that can restore peace in Benue State and any other state that wants peace where herdsmen are terrorizing them, that is the way to go. Globally what is being practiced is ranching, not this nomadic life of moving from one end to another and destroying peoples farms and all that. If you want peace that is the way to go. But like I keep saying I’m challenging anyone including the herdsmen and Miyetti Allah and anyone who cares to listen to me, if you have a superior policy that can restore peace, other than ranching, bring it on the table let us debate it. I challenge anyone, if you have it, bring it, then if you defeat me I’ll go back to Benue people and ask them to follow your policy. But for now, that’s the way forward.
What happened between you and Alhaji Abubakar Tsav last Sunday?
I think we issued a statement on this. The Chief Commissioner and six other commissioners from the six geopolitical zones came to appeal to me to ask the Attorney General to withdraw the case instituted against Alhaji Abubakar Tsav for spreading falsehood against the state government. He in turn apologized and I accept him as a father. He’s old enough to be my father and I’ve been brought up to respect old age. As a Christian, since he has apologized, I’ve forgiven him too. He can join me and contribute meaningfully to the development of Benue State. We need everybody to be on board. You know we tagged our blueprint “The Collective Vision for a New Benue.” I’m willing to absorb views from the opposition; I’m willing to accept criticisms that are constructive, not destructive like the opposition in Benue State does it, every day they tell lies. But I think that if people have things that can truly add value to the development of the state, Samuel Ortom is willing to partner with them no matter where they’re coming, irrespective of political, religious or ethnic inclination, I’m ready to partner with them. We are very open and we’ve told Alhaji Abubakar Tsav that we’re not stopping you from raising alarm but anytime you have issues, first of all, seek to confirm. Otherwise everything he has been publishing against me and my government is false, there is no iota of truth, but I’m ready to give information if you want. Like I keep saying, my government is anchored on the fear of God and core values like transparency, equity, fairness, justice, accountability, and integrity are integral part of my government and I’ll always fight to protect these values. I think that we’re on the same page now and we told him that we can work together, he is a father of the state and we can work together instead of destroying the state. The people say that the words of our elders are words of wisdom. Someone of his status can be of great benefit if he uses his experience positively towards the development of the state, but not to join some of these youths who are not experienced, who have not seen what the world is and so they insult and all that. I think we have settled the matter. Of course, the conditions I have given were that retract these things and apologize to me publicly. You cannot undress an elder, I’m Governor so I can also say I’m an elder because nobody is older than me in Benue State by virtue of my position, so you cannot undress an elder in public and then dress him later in the room. I’ve said that a public apology and then retract what you’ve written and then communicate to those people that what you’ve written against me that those things were based on falsehood. That you were given this information and you went and published without cross checking the facts.
We heard from the grapevine that you’ll soon be traveling, is it an investment trip?
No, I’m going on leave. I’m taking a two-week leave from the 17th or so, but I’ll communicate to the House of Assembly, I’ll make it public.
Some say that you’re leaving because you’ve received the second tranche of the Paris Club refund…
No, I want to assure you that you will be the first people to know when we receive that, like I did with the first tranche. Once it hits our accounts, I’ll give you the figures. Workers should not worry when it arrives we’ll all sit down, look at it and agree on what should be done.