Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, on Monday last week interacted with Benue people on a Radio Benue programme, Issues of the Moment. The programme lasted for two hours. In this second part of the serialization of excerpts from the session, Governor Ortom explains why Sole Administrators have been appointed for the 23 councils in the state.
WHY WE APPOINTED SOLE ADMINISTRATORS
Question: After extensively talking about appointment of traditional rulers in Benue State who are resident in rural areas where 70 percent thereabout of the people live brings to mind the recent appointment of sole administrators to man the 23 local governments. What informed that decision when people of Benue State constantly reminded you that local government elections were long overdue?
Answer: You can recall that even on this forum we did discuss the issue of local government elections and you recall that sometime ago, I went round the state and I had the opportunity of interacting with the Benue people through town hall meetings and this issue came up too and the sole administratorship came out as a result of popular view of our people and myself and government and the House of Assembly. Today, as I keep saying, my wage bill is an average of N7.8 billion per month; that is if you include pensions, overheads; pension which is over N550 million at the state level and then about N400 million at the local government level and overheads which is no longer regular because of the paucity of funds but is over N500 million at the state level; at the local government too it should be over N500 million. Because of the paucity of funds, we don’t even talk about this. But the actual figure in Benue State is an average of N7.8 billion. Since August of last year, 2015 to about July of this year; we were receiving an average of four billion naira though in between interventions like NLG’s came in and with the monies we borrowed, we were able to sort out some things but we were receiving an average of four billion naira from the Federation Account and then our IGR at a point went to N500 million but today we are back to about N250 million. Now, it became a problem trying to raise money to fund the local government election. BSIEC alone; what they required from us is close to one billion naira. We have been able to manage and pay salaries. BSU has been paid up to date but there are issues of other allowances which we are yet to settle with them. But their understanding with us is because of our constant meetings with them and explanation and possibly showing of figures that come. At the state level, we have been able to pay but we are owing four months; at the local government level, we are owing up to five months. There are some staff who have issues which I have directed they should be sorted out if need be and we will find ways of evening up and so on. So these are the challenges but I want to say to the people of Benue State that despite the fact that we are owing four months and five months at the local government; other states are worse; even those which are receiving 13% derivation like Bayelsa and Ondo; they can find out – eight, nine months they are owing staff and some states have resorted to payment of half salaries or quarter salaries. But in my discussions with the unions, they preferred that we pay full salaries and we allow the outstanding, but everything we do is transparent. So there wasn’t money to say we will give to BESIEC one billion naira to conduct election. And outside that, you must make provision for security for the election and other things that accompany it. So it’s not just giving BESIEC one billion that is the matter, the state government and the local governments have to put heads together to fund other issues that concern this election. So you should be talking about close to two billion naira if you want to conduct local government elections; that can go a long way in settling the salaries of our people. I want to remind us that during Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s days, when it became necessary, even something that was outside the law, the National Assembly decided to make provision for the doctrine of necessity, you know. I know that the constitution recognizes election and I want to do election. I am a product of democratically elected government and so I should encourage democracy at the local government but where you do not have the money, you cannot do it with bare hands. And then I consulted with the people. I did not just stand up one day and appoint sole administrators like one of our states did here and they have issues with the House of Assembly and all that. So we went round the state, consulted with the people and at the end it was decided that let us put in place sole administratorship because even the last caretaker chairmen we put at the local governments, we were not able to pay them up to date. I’ve been appealing to them, the bailout money we had at the local government level, about N1.4 billion that was left after we did screening and paid to workers. Other workers who came and had genuine complaints, we directed that they should be paid – about N600 and something million and we had intended that the local government officials who were caretaker committee members should be paid out of this bail out money and those local government staff who were omitted payment for October to November, 2011 should be paid and sundry things like that but unfortunately the money was garnished by the industrial court. We are still in court trying to clear this. So we have not even paid these caretaker committee officials; there was no money so we went back to the House of Assembly after discussing in the State Executive Council that the best alternative for us now is that a temporary measure should be that we appoint sole administrators for six months. We cannot allow the local governments in the midst of insecurity and other challenges that we have; we needed experienced people who could hold these local governments instead of leaving it in the hands of civil servants. That was why we approached the House of Assembly and they went through the process. We did not do any illegal thing and at the end of the day the House amended the local government law and made provision for the appointment of sole administrators. We have done this in the best interest of the people and we believe that within six months, if we are able to raise money, first of all we want to clear these arrears of salary of our people; once we are able to clear these salaries and we have some change, we will definitely go ahead and conduct the local government elections so that democracy will be felt at that level.
Question: While the issue of paucity of funds has been explained time and time without number, I’m sure Benue people have come to the realization that you are saying the truth. But they have also argued that when the government chose to appoint sole administrators, they should have been experienced civil servants not politicians.
Answer: That is the way you think but we are in a political era. There are certain things which the politicians will do which the civil servants cannot. As I have said in the midst of insecurity, in the midst of economic hardship, the people will understand a politician better than working with a civil servant. These people we have appointed understand the terrain very well and they are with the people and the people understand them. They will listen to them better than civil servants and in the case of disseminating information, and having control and if possible sanctioning those who err in the society, the people we have appointed who are politicians will do better than the civil servants. The civil servants will be there to support them, guide them in bureaucracy; but in terms of leadership, it is the political class that can give the leadership that is required to man these local governments. They will do better.