Stakeholders’ Forum 16th October 2015

ADDRESS OF BENUE STATE GOVERNOR, SAMUEL ORTOM, AT THE STAKEHOLDERS’ FORUM HELD ON FRIDAY, 16TH OCTOBER, 2015, AT PEOPLES HOUSE, MAKURDI.

 

PROTOCOL

We are delighted to welcome you all to this special occasion of our interaction with you, the major stakeholders in our dear state. We consider this as a rare privilege which the Almighty God has given us, through the popular mandate of the people, for which we remain grateful.

2. We thank the Almighty God for his grace and for being on our side. My Deputy, Engineer Benson Abounu and I, deeply appreciate our great party, the All Progressive Congress, APC, that provided us the platform to join the wind of change that is blowing across Nigeria.

3. Let me appreciate you for responding swiftly to the invitation that you may have received at short notice and apologize for inability to invite all critical stakeholders.

4. You may recall that during my inauguration I pledged that we shall constitute a participatory government in which citizens will have their say and way. I did promise that our administration would promote the growth and development of our state in accordance with the democratic principles of due consultation, full disclosure, transparency, inclusive participation, responsive leadership, rule of law and due process.

5. This forum has been organized to demonstrate our commitment to fulfilling that pledge. This is the right way to go.

6. You may also recall that I also promised to verify and disclose the huge debt burden of the state and from the beginning we committed ourselves to sustaining what was right and boldly correcting what was wrong.

7. Ours is the first administration since the creation of Benue State that met a deficit treasury on assumption of office. To worsen matters, the previous administration attempted to foist further financial burden on the state by recruiting about 5, 000 workers and creating first class stools at it exit point.

8. 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 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-months’ 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. That amount would soon be accessed and it is hoped that it would attract at least a matching amount into the state. The Benue we inherited is a difficult one in which difficult and tough choices as well as sacrifices are required if we must achieve the change we yearned and voted for. Against our better sense of judgment as a government, rather than borrow to create economic investments like the base of our economy, we have had to borrow to offset arrears of salaries, gratuities and pensions in addition to running the machinery of government.

10. While we took immediate steps to address the situation including above measures, 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 saying the amount was not exhaustive as it did not get access into some aspects of the state and local government financial profiles.

11. As the state government updated its records during compilation of figures for the Federal Government bailout, the amount increased to N169 billion, yet revelations continue to crop up. Out of this amount, over N69 billion was being owed state and local government workers as salaries, pensions and gratuities.

12. The preliminary figures included salary arrears, pensions and gratuities as well as contractual commitments.

13. In the course of investigations, questionable transactions involving billions of naira in state government shares in several companies, loans, bonds arrangements, SURE-P and government business 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 kneels, necessitated the setting up of commissions of inquiry which are carrying out assignments at various stages. Nobody needs to fear a witch-hunt in the on-going probe as no one will be unjustly victimized on account of service to the state, but those with established cases of corruption must be held to account through restitution which is also Biblical. This is one the ways we can protect the assault on the commonwealth of the people and set a precedence which all of us who are principal actors today will be constantly reminded that our actions in public office will one day be scrutinized. For those who have sought to know why we have not extended the probes to cover the period between 1999 and 2007, the answer is simple. We did not receive the handover notes of Senator Dr. George Akume’s administration. What we received were the handover notes of Dr. Gabriel Suswam’s administration. We are therefore, not privy to the handover notes of 1999-2007 and as such are not in a position to scrutinize them.

14. We also found it untenable to accept thousands of new recruits into the state civil service with no source of funds to pay their salaries just like the case of the hurried creation of new first class stools in flagrant abuse of due process.

15. There was no better option than to put these decisions on hold.

16. Verification exercises are also currently being carried out at both the state and local government levels to ascertain the genuineness or otherwise of wage bills that are close to four billion in both cases. The current figures at both levels seem bloated and therefore, unacceptable.

17. A few days back we received bailout funds for payment of salary arrears at both the local government and state levels. We accessed N15.5 billion for payment of teachers and local government salary arrears and N12.5 for state government workers.

18. Unfortunately, these much awaited funds may not be able to clear all salary arrears. Both arrears of local and state government pensions and gratuities have not been covered by the funds. We however, express profound gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for the initiative which we believe will ameliorate the plight of, and motivate workers at both the local and state levels to offer their best in order to confront the current challenges.

19. In line with the full disclosure, transparency and accountability policies of our administration, we have informed the people about the receipt of the funds and proceeded to set up committees which have involved all the major stakeholders including union leaders in the disbursement which will commence as soon as the modalities have been completed.

20. 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.

21. Our administration has remained committed to its core values which are anchored on the fear of God. 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 forgive and reconciliation to take place, restitution has to take place.

22. We have zero tolerance for corruption and have warned that government officials who divert public funds into personal use will be punished. I 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.

23. In spite of the challenges we met on ground we hit the ground running and have deployed our mandate in the first 100 days to accomplish the following:

  1. Trimming of government size through the reduction of ministries from 17 to 13 and Special Advisers from 28 to 20, to reduce costs as also reflected in holding retreats at the Benue Peoples House instead of the Obudu Mountain Resort.
  2. Constitution of state the Executive Council as well as caretaker committees within record time and ensuring take off of the executive, legislative and judicial arm of government.
  3. Resolution of disputes? with unions and resumption of the Benue State University
  4. Payment of accreditation requirements of college of Health Sciences? and BSU Teaching Hospital leading to granting of accreditation by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria after 12 years.
  5. On-going rehabilitation of School of Nursing and Midwifery for re-accreditation
  6. Commencement of payment of full salaries at state and local government levels
  7. Payment of three months salaries to BSU Technical College staff
  8. Promotion of peace between farmers and herders as well as deepening of inter-state peace building efforts as reflected in visit of Taraba State Governor and holding of joint Security Council meeting of Benue and Taraba States.
  9. Introduction and successful prosecution of Amnesty Program with more 400 arms and thousands of ammunition surrendered while over 700 people embraced the program.
  10. New fertilizer distribution initiative
  11. Collaboration with the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA and Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, for Establishment of Benue State Information Technology Development Agency, BITDA, and beefing up ICT activities in the state.
  12. Re-engagement with Development Partners – UN, UNHCR,UNFPA, World Bank, IFAD,USAID etc
  13. Signing of MOU with Chinese, German and American investors on infrastructure development.
  14. Procurement of 10 kilowatts new transmitter for Radio Benue at N14.5 million.
  15. Payment of N20 million compensation for AIT to establish radio and television stations
  16. Release of funds for construction and equipping Akperan Orshi College of Agriculture laboratories and on-going rehabilitation of Agriculture training Centers at Mbatie and Otobi
  17. Sponsorship of lawyers in official and private bars to 2015 NBA Conference in Abuja
  18. Release of funds for renovation of courts and judges quarters
  19. Restoration of confidence in government
  20. Procurement of vehicles for executive council members, House of Assembly and new judges
  21. Payment of N93 million and N20 million respectively as counterpart funds to IFAD and UNICEF for agriculture value-chain development as well as water, sanitation, and hygiene programs.
  22. Allocation of N300 million for completion of Assembly complex
  23. Release of N300 million for restoration of water at Otobi and Katsina/Ala
  24. Resumption of construction on Daudu Gbajimba road after release of N500 million.
  25. Several other achievements that we have not captured here.

24. It would not have been possible to accomplish the forgoing without the support and patience of the good people of Benue State. We appreciate and cherish the confidence you continue to repose in us.

Today, our development blueprint, “Our Collective Vision For A New Benue” will be unveiled so that all of you can make inputs into its transformation into a viable working document. We expect that you would own and domesticate this document for our collective good. We don’t have monopoly of wisdom which informs our resolve to always bow to superior reasoning and ideas. Let me assure the people of Benue State that our administration remains committed to the realization of its five-point agenda. These are good governance and revenue security, agriculture-driven industrialization, STEAM-based education and health care, provision of critical infrastructure; as well as gender, women, youths, sports and people with disabilities.

26. We have also inaugurated a committee to draft a long term development plan in accordance with the manifesto of our great party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, your inputs, and our blueprint.

27. We appreciate the role of all major stakeholders, the national leadership of our party, especially our leader, Senator Dr. George Akume, for his support, vision and passion for the development of Benue State. We also appreciate the contributions of all our leaders including Chief Audu Ogbe, Senator Barnabas Gemade, our state chairman, Comrade Abba Yaro, as well as all other party chairmen and dignitaries present.

28. We thank you all for coming.

29. As we depart I wish you all journey mercies.

30. Thank you and God bless.

31. In God we trust.