Address of Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, at the 3rd Stakeholders' Meeting...

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ADDRESS OF BENUE STATE GOVERNOR, SAMUEL ORTOM, AT THE THIRD STAKEHOLDERS’ MEETING HELD ON MONDAY, 13TH FEBRUARY, 2017, AT THE PEOPLES HOUSE, MAKURDI.

PROTOCOL

We thank God and the good people of Benue State for the privilege they have given to us to welcome you all to this event. Today’s occasion is another opportunity for us to interact with you most distinguished sons and daughters of the State. You are the major stakeholders in the Benue project.

2.    Gathered here is the cream of the Benue community that cuts across political, religious and ethnic divides. The ties that bind us are more than those which divide. We are all members of one large Benue family. May I therefore, welcome you all to our family meeting.

3.    My Deputy, Engineer Benson Abounu and I, deeply appreciate the people of the state that provided us the opportunity to serve them.

4.    Let me appreciate you for responding swiftly to the invitation that you may have received at short notice.

5.    You may recall that during our inauguration we pledged to constitute a participatory government in which citizens will have their say and way. We promised to promote the growth and development of our state in accordance with the democratic principles of due consultation and inclusive participation.

6.    This meeting which is the third since our assumption of office has been expanded and it is organized to demonstrate our commitment to fulfilling that pledge. We will continue to hold Town Hall meetings in each LGA so as to interact closely with our people and receive feedback which will add value to good governance.

7.    You may recall that we also promised to make full disclosure about our state of affairs at all times and from the beginning we committed ourselves to sustaining what was right and boldly correcting what was wrong.

8.    Ours is the first administration since the creation of Benue State that met a deficit treasury on assumption of office. The situation we met on ground was that of total collapse of governance and public institutions resulting in unprecedented hardship on the people even as salaries, gratuities and pensions had not been paid for months while public institutions including the Benue State University and College of Health Sciences were on strike.

9.    Things were virtually at a standstill. For take-off we had to secure N10billion facility to pay two-month’ salary, and meet critical obligations. We also sought and obtained permission from the House of Assembly to secure another N5.5 billion to pay counterpart funding for development projects with partners so as to retain them in the state. We are pleased to inform you that we accessed that facility and have deployed it to match with funds from local and international partners. The Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, provided N3.8 billion and with our payment of an equal amount we accessed N7.6 billion which we have invested into 740 projects in the primary school sector across the state. Similarly, we paid N1.2 billion to the Millennium Development Goals/Sustainable Development Goals MDGs/SDGs and accessed N2.4 billion. With this we are positively affecting the lives of millions in the health, education, economic as well as water and sanitation sectors across the state.

10.  At the inception of our administration we also embarked on a debt verification exercise. We obtained initial preliminary figures of N90 billion which the Ministry of Finance gave us. The transition committee turned in a figure of over N130 billion after its painstaking exercise but stated that the amount was not exhaustive as it did not get access into some aspects of the state and local government financial profiles. As the state government updated its records during compilation of figures for the Federal Government bailout, the amount increased N169 billion, yet revelations continue to crop up. Out of this amount, over N69 billion was owed state and local government workers as salaries, pensions and gratuities.

11.  In the course of investigations, questionable transactions involving billions in state government shares in several companies, and businesses generally have been brought to light. The need to get to the root of all these, especially as the people demanded to know why the state had been brought to its knees necessitated the setting up commissions of inquiry. The most far reaching of this has been the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Commission. Its report indicted 52 persons including the former Governor Gabriel Suswam for looting N107 billion from the coffers of the state and a further investigation of N44 billion. The Commission’s white paper has been forwarded to anti-corruption agencies and the police who have commenced the prosecution of some of the key actors.

12.  In the circumstances in which we found ourselves at the inception of our administration we found it impracticable to accept thousands of new recruits into the state civil service with no source of funds to pay their salaries. There was also the case of hurried creation of new first class stools in flagrant abuse of due process. There was no better option than to put these decisions on hold.  While the economic recession has not permitted us to review recruitment into the civil service, circumstances dictated an amendment of the Chieftaincy Law. The development has paved way for the selection of first and third class traditional rulers in the Tiv speaking area while the exercise is ongoing in the Idoma speaking area.

13.  Meanwhile, verification exercises are currently being carried out to ascertain the genuineness or otherwise of wage bills that are close to N8 billion at the state and local government levels. The current figures at both levels seem bloated and therefore, unacceptable. My predecessor also drew attention to this challenge when he stated in an interview in the Leadership newspaper of Thursday, 2nd February, 2015,  that the monthly wage bill of the state at both levels was more than N7 billion. At the time he spoke the minimum wage for teachers had not been implemented and he also did not reckon with commitments to pensions and overheads. Ours is one of the highest wage bills in the country and with each passing day it is becoming more obvious with dwindling resources that payment of salaries has become a major challenge. We believe that as stakeholders in the Benue project you might assist us to find the way forward.  One obvious way is to collectively and carefully review salaries in mutually acceptable way that government can pay and also execute projects for the good of all.  Last year, I promised to clear all salary arrears by December based on the hope that the Federal Government would pay completely the London and Paris Club refunds of $181 million due to the State after the previous administration had received about $24 million. However, with the payment of only a quarter of the money we were able to liquidate the arrears for only two months at both levels. We believe that we shall move to clear the outstanding from the balance left.

14.  Towards the end of 2015 we received bailout funds for payment of salary arrears at both the local government levels. We accessed N15.5 billion for payment of teachers and local government salary arrears and N12.5 for state government workers. Unfortunately, these much awaited funds have not been able to clear all salary arrears. Moreover, both arrears of local and state government pensions and gratuities were not been covered by the funds. We however, express profound gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for the initiative which we believe ameliorated the plight of workers at the time the arrears were cleared. At the state level with prudent management we were able to save N1.6 billion which we injected back into the system while at local government level it was N1.4 billion which is still in account as a result of a garnishee order.

15.  The federal government also gave states a N10 billion infrastructure facility and we ploughed the money into massive road construction, rural electrification and other vital projects. Consequently, contractors were called back to site on 10 abandoned roads while we awarded contracts for the construction of two major new roads besides rural ones.

16.  In order to beef up our internally generated revenue profile we have also constituted the board of the Benue State Internal Revenue Service, BIRS, and appointed a substantive chairman. The initiative is to reenergize the organization and reposition it to deliver on its mandate. In the face of continuous dwindling of the federal allocation to the state with attendant challenges including difficulties in paying salaries and providing critical infrastructure the need to look inwards has become imperative. However, efforts in this direction have met stiff resistance from tax payers making us to propose a review of the Revenue Law.

17.  Our administration has remained committed to its core values which are anchored on the fear of God which explained our objective of dedicating the state to God last year. These include transparency, accountability, fairness, justice, humility, selflessness, discipline, integrity, integration, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and unity. We believe that these values make development inevitable. However, for complete forgiveness and reconciliation to take place, restitution has to take place.

18.  We have continued to emphasize zero tolerance for corruption and have warned that government officials who divert public funds into personal use will be punished. We have continued to reiterate 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.

19.  The security of lives and property continues to remain our topmost priority which explains our huge investment in the sector. We have deepened our engagement with our neighbors in Nasarawa and Taraba States and have been able to secure an accord between the Fulani and Agatu people. We have continued to fund the presence of the conventional security agencies in several flashpoints across the state and have set up committees at various levels to sustain peace. While the carrot approach of our amnesty program elapsed, the stick approach has continued to yield bountiful dividends as the war against crime in the state has recorded great successes. The United Nations and other agencies assisted us in the destruction of over 600 weapons seized in the course of the amnesty last year. We believe that in the very near future the gang leader, Mr. Terwase Akwaza, alias Ghana will be apprehended and prosecuted. There is every need for all stakeholders to partner with us in this all important fight.

20.  Let me inform this distinguished audience that in spite of our numerous challenges we have recorded the following milestones in the various sectors in line with our five point agenda and blueprint:

EDUCATION

1.    740 ongoing construction, renovation and other projects in primary schools in the 23 local government areas of the state following the release of N7.6 billion. 

2.    Renovation of some secondary schools and recruitment of Math’s teachers to strengthen science

3.    Resolution of disputes with unions a few days after taking over and the resumption of Benue State University (BSU) from a prolonged strike.

4.    Constitution of Visitation Panels for state-owned tertiary institutions and commencement of implementation of the BSU panel's report as well as reconstitution of the Benue State University Council.

5.    Increase of carrying capacity of the university from 4, 655 to 6, 000.

6.    Obtained full accreditation for seven courses

7.    Commencement of payment of salaries of BSU Technical School Staff after five years of non-payment of salaries

8.    Re-training of 10,000 primary and 6000 secondary school teachers.

9.    Plans are underway to return mission and private schools to their proprietors.

10.  Establishment of Benue Peoples Education Project (BEPEP) to raise funds for development of education in the State.

HEALTH/SDGs

1.    Obtained Final accreditation for College of Health Sciences and Benue State University Teaching Hospital, BSUTH

2.    Graduation of 152 medical doctors - first set comprised 40 doctors, the second 27, the third 44 with the fourth set 41 doctors.

3.    Reconstruction of Schools of Nursing and Midwifery, Makurdi as well as College of Health Technology, Agasha

4.    Re-accreditation of Schools of Nursing and Midwifery, Makurdi, admission of students and resumption of full academic activities

5.    Establishment of Primary Health Care Board and constitution of its board.

6.    The first state in the country to meet requirements for accessing the 2015 Round of MDGs/SDGs Conditional Grants in Nigeria

7.    Payment of N1.2 billion counterpart funding to access a total of N2.4 billion for construction and equipment of Modern Primary Health Centers in 33 communities across the state through the MDGS-SDGS

8.    The Governor was recognized and invited to address one of the side events at the 2016 United Nations General Assembly on SDGs in the state

9.    Purchase of ambulances for health centres across the state

10. Provision of motorized boreholes and public toilets under SDGs and its partnership with DFID in parts of the state.

11. Construction of Skills Acquisition Centres in Apa-Agila, Ado; Makurdi and Gbajimba in Guma LGA

12. Construction of Orange Packaging Plant in Ushongo Town, Ushongo LGA

AGRICULTURE AND INDUSTRIALISATION

  1. Ongoing construction and equipping of laboratory at the Akperan Orshi College of Agriculture, Yandev, and rehabilitation of Agric Training centres in Mbatie and Otobi.
  2. Evolved a new policy for procurement of fertilizer at highly subsidised rate of 38% to Benue farmers.
  3. Facilitation of N2 billion CBN Anchor Borrowers Scheme agricultural loans for disbursement to Benue farmers.
  4. Introduction of land clearing and dry season farming.
  5. Signed MOU with Bank of Industry to give N2 billion loans to farmers at 5% interest rate in addition to N1 billion available facility from CBN for the same purpose
  6. Commencement of work after signing of agreement with Torra KFT for the completion of the Wannune Tomato Factory which is aimed at creating hundreds of jobs for the people.
  7. The same approach is being applied to other comatose state-owned industries.
     

WORKERS' WELFARE

1.    Immediate commencement of payment of full salaries at state and local Government levels after the workers had not received their wages for several months.

2.    Implementation of 18,000 minimum wage for primary school teachers in the state

3.    Payment of four months’ salary owed by the previous administration through the N28 billion bailout funds obtained from the Federal Government
 

ROADS AND OTHER INFRASTRUCTURE
(Award of contract for the construction of six new roads in parts of the state as follows_)

1.    Obagaji-Okokolo-Abian-Agagbe road 43km

2.    Ikov-Utange-Mbagwaza-Mbagba-Lessel road with spur at Hiitom 55km

3.    Otukpo Icho-Odudaje-Aondoana road 21km

4.    Makurdi-Yogbo-Udei-Udei branch road 52.27km

5.    Mobile Police Barracks - Yaikyo - Apir road 24km

6.    Origbo - Imande - Akpur - Gbajimba road 40. 397km
 

The State Government had earlier mobilized contractors back to site for the completion of 10 abandoned road projects across the state. The affected roads are:

1.    Zaki Biam - Afia - Gbeji road 46.52km

2.    Taraku - Naka - Agagbe road 61km

3.    Oju - Obussa - Utonkon road 52.00km

4.    Otukpo - Utonkon - Igumale road 55.61km

5.    Oshigbudu - Ogbaji road 10km

6.    Igbor - Ikpa - Wannune road 36.732k

7.    Vandeikya – Koti-Yough - Adikpo road 32.00km

8.    Ge - Ikyobo - Agbeede - Amua - Anshagba road 37km

9.    Tordonga - Zaki Biam with spur to Tsewuaze - Tiza - Shila road 45.14km

10. Daudu - Gbajimba road

-     Released N300 million for the completion of the new Benue State House of Assembly complex
-     Re-roofing and rehabilitation of old Assembly complex
-     Partnership with Cargopolis Consortium for the establishment of a cargo airport in the state
-     Partnership with NNPC for the establishment of Ethanol project in the state.
-     Ongoing work on 33 rural roads and electricity projects across the state.

SAVING COST OF GOVERNANCE
- Trimming of Government by reducing the number of Commissioners from 17 to 13 and advisers from 28 to 20. This is to cut the cost of governance.

JUDICIARY

1.    Major intervention in the Judiciary - Ongoing renovation of Ministry of Justice Headquarters, Makurdi and renovation of Judges Quarters in Makurdi and Otukpo,

2.    Appointment of President, Customary Court of Appeal, two Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal and One judge for the State high Court.

3.    Reactivation of Payment of wardrobe allowances to government lawyers,

4.    Inauguration of the Advisory Council on Prerogative of Mercy and granting of amnesty to over 100 convicts.

SECURITY

1.    Introduction and prosecution of Amnesty Programme using carrot and stick approaches which led to the recovery and destruction of over 600 arms and light weapons, thousands of ammunition while over 900 youths embraced the amnesty and surrendered their weapons. The initiative has brought peace to various parts of the state.

2.    Sustained effort for the promotion of peace between farmers and herdsmen as well as deepening inter-state peace building efforts with Taraba and Nasarawa States

3.    Contacts with the Presidency, Chief of Army Staff and Inspector General of police with
efforts to contain herder's assaults in Agatu, Tarka, Makurdi, Logo, Buruku and Guma.

4.    Rescue of people, especially children from kidnappers

5.  Support for vigilante groups in the state to   complement   efforts of conventional security agencies

ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY

1.    Setting up of Judicial Commission of Inquiry into funds which accrued to Benue state and how they were utilized between 2007 and 2015

2.    Setting up the Administrative Commission of Inquiry into the sale and lease of government property within the same period.

3.    The Judicial Commission of Inquiry submitted its report recently and indicted 52 individuals and 10 corporate bodies who are to refund over N107 billion to the coffers of the state and further investigate the misappropriation of N44 billion.

4.    A white paper was issued on the Justice Kpojime Commission's report and implementation is in progress.

5.    Introduction of Treasury Single Account, TSA, at the local government level

6.    Inclusion of labour unions like NLC, TUC and NUT for the first time, as part of the joint account committee.

7.    Introduction of town hall meetings and constant radio programs

INTERNAL REVENUE GENERATION

1.    Benue State Internal Revenue Service, BIRS, has been repositioned with the constitution of the new board and management

2.    Proactive steps taken to boost the Internally Generated Revenue, IGR of the state by introducing the Point of Sale (POS) machines.

MEDIA/ICT

1.    Collaboration with the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA for the establishment of Benue State Information Technology Development Agency, BITDA and formulation of an ICT for the state.

2.    Procurement and installation of new transmitters at Radio Benue and at Idekpa sub-station which has resumed transmission while reconstruction of Katsina-Ala station is ongoing.

3.    Partnership with the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology and the Rockefeller Foundation for training of 1,500 unemployed youths from the 23 local government areas of the state on how to access online jobs.

4.    Provision of land to the Nigerian Communication Commission for   the establishment of Digital   Institute in Benue State.

PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP

1.    Re-engagement with Development Partners, UN, UNHCR, UNFPA, World Bank, IFAD, USAID for the provision of Education, Health services etc.

2.    Signing of MOU with Chinese, German and American investors on infrastructure.

3.    Payment of over N5.5Billion counterpart fund to local and international development partners.

WATER SUPPLY

1.    Released counterpart funds for 116 water and sanitation projects in Oju, Tarka, Konshisha and Ogbadigbo Local Government Areas under the Benue State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, BERWASSA

2.    Ensured the restoration of water supply in Otukpo and Katsina-Ala with the payment of over N1 billion to the contractors

3.    Provision of three motorized boreholes and construction of drainages at Government Girls College, Makurdi.

4.    Provision of boreholes for the people of Jaki village in Kwande and parts of Vandeikya local government areas.

WOMEN, YOUTHS, SPORTS AND THE DISABLED

-     Reinvigoration of the Benue State Rehabilitation Centre, Apir and provision of vehicles and other support.

-     Takeover of schools for the disabled hitherto owned by some local governments in the state

-     Support for private initiatives for old people’s homes

-     Rejuvenation of Lobi Stars Football Club

-     Care for widows and orphans through support programs of the Eunice Spring of Life Foundation.

21.  The above list is not exhaustive and we have directed Ministries, Departments and Agencies to brief the press on their achievements since the inception of our administration. It would not have been possible to accomplish the foregoing without the support and patience of the good people of Benue State. We appreciate and cherish the confidence you continue to repose in us.

22.  Last year, our development blueprint, “Our Collective Vision For A New Benue” was unveiled so that all of you can make inputs into its transformation into a viable working document. We expect that you have your copies and have domesticated the document for our collective good. We don’t have monopoly of wisdom which informs our resolve to always bow to superior reasoning and ideas.

23. May we also inform you that we have produced a 10-year development plan in accordance with the manifesto of our great party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, as well as our blueprint.

24. We appreciate the role of all major stakeholders including the Speaker and members of the State House of Assembly and the Chief Judge, the President, Customary Court of Appeal as well as all judges and staff of the judiciary. Our appreciation also goes to members of the national assembly, you the major stakeholders, traditional rulers, spiritual fathers and all other leaders in the state for their support and contributions to the development of the state. 

25.  As your Governor, I wish to reiterate my commitment to work hard and to do so with the fear of God.  Let me assure all of you that I remain the Governor of all Benue citizens.  I am governor for the rich and poor, rural and urban dwellers, men and women, students and workers, market women and traders, young and old.  As long as you are a citizen of Benue I will work hard to ensure your safety, security and welfare irrespective of your political and religious affiliation.

26. We thank you all for coming. As we depart I wish you all journey mercies.

27. Thank you and God bless.

28. In God we trust.