On 24th August, 2017, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, interacted with the people on the state’s radio station. The following are excerpts:
Good morning dear listener. Many thanks for joining us on another edition of the Radio Benue current affairs weekly phoning programme, Issues of the Moment. The overriding issues on this edition are the benefits of Governor Samuel Ortom’s recent trip to the People’s Republic of China; the state of insecurity in Benue and salary payment challenges in Benue. My name is David Ukuma your guide and my co-anchor is Patrick Omora. This edition of the programme is at the instance of the Governor who is already seated to lead discussion.
Welcome on board, your Excellency.
Thank you David, and thank you listener.
The Governor is accompanied to the studio by some top government functionaries. First, we have the Secretary to the State Government, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Prof. Anthony Ijohor. You are welcome.
We have the Chairman, Benue Economic Team and Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Professor Dennis Ityavyar. You are welcome on the programme.
Thank you and good morning.
State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Honourable Barrister
Michael Gusa is also here. Welcome on the programme.
Good morning David, good morning listener.
Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Hon. Lawrence Onoja Jnr, Welcome on the programme.
Thank you very much.
And we have the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Hon. James Anbua. It’s nice having you on board.
Thank you, good morning listener.
We also have the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and ICT, Mr. Tahav Agerzua. You are welcome on the programme.
We also have in the studio, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Terver Akase. You are welcome.
Thank you very much, David.
Now you can make the microphone yours by dialing 07038267479 which will be activated in the course of the programme while telephone number, 08034787173 has already been on for those wishing to send short text messages.
To begin the programme, Your Excellency, I have the privilege to on behalf of the entire Radio Benue Family welcome you back from the People’s Republic of China.
Thank you very much David.
Can you please tell the listener how it went and the expected benefit to the state?
Thank you very much. Like I made in the statement before travelling to China, I went there specifically to discuss the issue of Star Cement in Igumale. It’s a project which I inherited and was started by Sen. George Akume and was keenly followed by my predecessor and unfortunately, after several years; I think over 13 years, the project is yet to come to fruition. So it is a source of worry. It was one of the first projects which I visited when I became Governor and I tookinterest because I know the potentials we have in mining and producing cement and the effect and the impact of it on our economy – job provision, opportunities and wealth creation that will accrue to us by that cement. So I went to the plant and then went to China and took time to discuss with the core investor who assured us that within three months there would be shipment and there were certain issues which the state government needed to address. Initially, from the inception, it was a state owned company having 70% and the core investor having 30%, but because of paucity of funds, government was not able to pay the 70% so during Suswam’s administration, the agreement was reviewed to 30% and the core investor took 70%. So government had already spent about six million dollars and so it was something that we needed to follow up. So, they out of the 30%, plus the six million that government had spent, they were certain things that government needed to do, like expatriate quota and of course securing of the mining license. And we successfully secured the expatriate quota through my intervention with the Hon. Minister of Interior and so we got 15-man expatriate and that has been secured. And we also secured a consultant who also secured the mining license. And so as a government and this administration, we have completed our part and we waited. During the last Canton Trade Fair, my commissioner and chairman of the economic team had course to visit the plant again and same assurances were given that shipment would be done; the equipment were fabricated and shipment would be done and we waited and never saw it. So this time I decided to go there myself. We held discussions with the management and they assured that by October, shipment would be done and we have given them till the end of the year if that is not done, government would be forced to review the agreement then find other alternatives because we cannot continue. This is after two years running. A project that is so there and government has committed so much, six million dollars is not a small amount of money and so we are committed and of course there are other investors too who have indicated interest in cement production and so if they cannot, it is better to find alternatives that can take over the responsibility from them. So we are waiting and as soon as there is no fruitful response by the end of this year, we will be forced to review the agreement and possible termination and I told them that we cannot be waiting forever. This must be done. So, basically that was the main purpose of my trip. But it is always good to use one stone to kill many birds if you can and so I had the opportunity of visiting Yuan Seed Company in Changsha, Hunan Province. This is a company which is involved in hybrid production especially in rice. They have had success stories even in Nigeria – in Kebbi, in Zamfara, in Kano and also Sokoto. They have demonstrated this and I heard about them so I decided to visit them. And of course, this Hunan Province is also the Food Basket of China; it’s mainly an agricultural province of China and I felt that the Food Basket of the Nation should also have some partnership with this province and we discussed with them because currently, in Kebbi, in Sokoto, in Zamfara and some states in the North, they have succeeded in having rice production up to seven tons per hectare. And of course right here in Benue, the maximum yield you can boast about is two tons and so there is a lot of difference and of course for a 100 kg bag, when talking about one ton, it’s about ten of those sacks and when you talk about two, you are talking about 20; when you talk about seven tons, you are talking about 70 sacks of paddy rice and I think if we introduce it here, it will go a long way in supporting our farmers to do better and to sustain our name as the Food Basket of the Nation. This too was something that we were able to explore. They have sent an MOU and government will look at it and see where we can do partnership just like the other states in the North have done and have succeeded and are doing it. Their target was that they should have 15 tons per hectare and I think that Benue State should key into this and it will go a long way in helping us. The other one was the issue of cassava processing which we also discussed with a company in China which is willing to invest here and are looking for partners to also participate so that we facilitate the investment. Today, we have a deficit of over 1.8 million metric tons of starch product that is consumed in Nigeria which is being imported into the country. Cassava is one crop that when you take the stem and drop it by the roadside, after the rainy season, the next year, you can harvest. So it’s one of the easiest agricultural products that we have here in Benue State and we felt that leaving it to continue to waste in that manner, we can look for alternatives. Previous administrations established a cassava processing plant which was meant to produce finished products of cassava flour to be used for flour industry, but I think there were issues. This was a policy which Olusegun Obasanjo brought when he was President and they started mixing it with other things to make bread, and cake and all that but there were issues with it and so up till today, the cassava plant that we have in the Industrial Layout is still dormant though there has been concession to an investor but they have not been working and it’s a big challenge. This particular one, we are talking about starch that is used in the cosmetic industry, pharmaceutical industry, in brewing and several other uses. Starch can be used for fructose and glucose and all that; it is a raw material for other derivatives. And so it is a massive opportunity and today as I talk to you in Nigeria, we are having a deficit of 1.8 million metric tons of cassava. So this too, I think that the Benue people should arise, we’re looking for investors. Those who have the potential can arise and take this opportunity and partner with this investor to establish one here. I’m calling on those interested to join hands with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment which is ready to provide the necessary information and like I always say, businesses are conducted through borrowing. The richest man, Dangote and all those people, they borrow. Our people should imbibe that habit which is why we have gone an extra mile to provide tax holiday for one year for those who have property and want to acquire certificate of occupancy, C of O, so that it would facilitate them to get facilities from financial institutions to do business because that is where we need to go. Whether we like it or not, the country today as it is, the recession has not gone, there is still a challenge and the only way we can improve on our internally generated revenue, IGR; the only way we can develop our economy is when we begin to do things which can add value on our primary products. I’ve always said that selling out our primary products is a great loss. One, you deny people of several opportunities. If you sell your primary products, you are selling out jobs, you are selling your wealth, you are selling out opportunities that would have been gotten if you were processing them. If you were processing them here, there would be job opportunities for many people, there will be wealth creation and the value chain will spread so that the Okada man can benefit, the woman selling food by the roadside can benefit, and the one selling water and so many other benefits will accrue. But if you just take your raw produce and sell out, there is so much to lose. This is one thing that I’m appealing to Benue people because that is the sector that I belong to and coming from the industrial sector, I want our people to pick up. Let us stop lamenting. The challenge is there, it is before us and so it is a must and as a leader and Governor of the state I’m telling the people and you will recall that during my campaign, these are the things that I said we need to do and so despite all the challenges that we have in investment today, we are calling on people to do something. We have opportunities again in Taraku Mills, we’ve been looking for investors to come and take over and we have yet another opportunity in Ben Fruit which was taken over by Transcorp but later abandoned. We’re looking for investors. We have opportunities in Burnt bricks, we have opportunities in Mbatyav Cement which was also initiated. People with contact and resources can take over these. We have opportunities in roof tiles. These are government companies which have been moribund for a long time. We are looking for people who will come and take over those things. Anyone in Benue State, if you come, we’re ready to even partner with you. It does not matter, once you can show competence and of course the yam flour industry in Katsina-Ala is also available. So once you show some level of commitment and competence that you have the capacity to make these plants work, we are ready to work with you. We have had several investors for Taraku Mills which have come. The last one was a company which was in partnership with France from Morocco and because of the various agitations in Nigeria today, we were near to signing an agreement and they withdrew that until stability comes. So there too we were able to woo some investors from China who have agreed to come and have some due diligence on especially Taraku Mills to see what can be done. But let our people hear because even investors, from what we have discovered, is that they coming to Nigeria, they want people who can partner with them and so let our people take this opportunity, I think it will go long way in helping us. So basically, those are the success stories of my China trip. But it is not a one day thing that you go there and then you pick something back home; you will have to undergo a lot of processes because no person will want to come and invest his money in a place where he is not sure of the return on that investment and so on their part too, they have to do some due diligence while we also provide the level ground. For us we are ready. I call the people of Benue State to take advantage of what we have. You can come into partnership and take over one of these plants for instance, and make it work. We are willing to support you with little input into it once you show us the capacity. We are willing to help you do that.
Thank you, your Excellency. You have made your stand known on the partnership between Benue and this Chinese company on this Igumale Cement; suppose they fail because they failed before now, if they fail to deliver when they are supposed to and the contract is terminated; my concern is the money committed into it by the state government. What will happen in this case by law?
Well, the Attorney General is here and maybe with time he can explain what will happen because there were agreements which were in place. So we will go back to the agreement because there are clauses of how in case of conflict and termination, what should happen. So maybe the Attorney General can comment on this.
Thank you, your Excellency.
I think the Governor has said it all. In such a relationship, usually there is an instrument engraved in the conditions and terms and we are not hoping that we will get to that stage but if it happens, we will look at the provisions of the agreement and then do the needful.
Thank you very much, the Honourable Attorney General. Your Excellency, I like to thank you for taking out time to explain to the people of Benue State your trip to the People’s Republic of China. We hope that the Benue people will take advantage of what you have said here and imbibe the culture of investment so that our economy can turn around for the better and then we also pray and hope that shipment of equipment regarding the Star Cement Factory in Igumale will be done as agreed with the core investor in faraway China. Now, away from that. Your Excellency, while you were away in the People’s Republic of China, calamity befell the state. Your principal Special Assistant on Knowledge Economy and Investment, Dr. Tavershima Adyorough was shot dead by unknown gunmen. May his soul rest in peace. Now arising from that sad incident, what is your comment on the state of security in the state today?
This is an unfortunate development. It was most devastating to me as a person because Adyorough worked with me very closely. I gave him an opportunity to work with me when I was Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment and he is part of the team that we worked together and from his background, having studied widely on economic issues and management issues, he was of great support to me and eventually when I became Governor, I brought him on board and created that office – Principal Special Assistant on Knowledge Economy knowing that we should look beyond the box of the conventional things we do around government but we should key into the best global practice of what is happening about intellectual property. Something that when you sit in one place, you make your money as much as possible. So it’s not really about doing the conventional work around. We must think beyond that and he was key. It’s a new office that has been created. It has never been created by any administration in this state and we were working and laying the foundation that will help to build our economy and he is someone who is very committed to his duties and it is sad to know because I cannot recall Adyorough having issues with anyone since I knew him and this is over six years. I have never heard him having a quarrel with someone and it is most devastating and may his soul rest in peace. But I want to say that those people will not go free. This is a state that I knew that left to me Samuel Ortom, I have no capacity even in becoming in Governor and that is why when I became Governor and started facing challenges. I called the people together and we dedicated the state to God because King David said: “I will look to the hills, where will my help come? My help will come from the Lord God Almighty.” Left for me, I don’t have the capacity, I’m not competent. But the wisdom that God will give me will guide me and that was the basis of why I even contested in the first place. I trusted in God and God was able to hear me. Today, there are several challenges including falsehood, insults and all that. Check the Bible. The prophets of God were insulted; even when God opened up the earth to consume the people, all the insulting did not stop. David was insulted by Shimei when he had his trying times. But the Bible says that “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord God will deliver him from them all.” All these things are trials and I don’t want to hold anyone responsible except you make yourself available as a tool to be used by the devil. It is unfortunate but I want to say that we will surely overcome. I know that the challenges are coming because of the manner in which we are handling governance. It has never happened before. Handling governance in righteousness, being fair, handling it with equity, justice, transparency and being accountable, leaving everything open and many people don’t want this and a lot of falsification and all that but I chose to leave myself open, even in this matter. I don’t want to conclude that it is an armed robbery case. I don’t want to conclude that it was assassination, I don’t want to conclude that something else happened but I want thorough investigation to be done and I believe that the God I serve will surely help us to fish out these criminals because this is not good news for anyone – a top government official to be murdered. But let me say this to Benue people. I want to appeal to us. You supported me when I came and introduced the amnesty to disarm our youth who were armed by our political opponents and were terrorizing people all over the place. You will recall that nobody was sleeping with his two eyes closed until we were able to introduce the carrot approach of the amnesty which disarmed these people. Today we are having some level of peace. Today, you will also see that we have been able to introduce the stick approach and we are going after these criminals. But the issue of security is not to be left in the hands of the security agencies or government alone, it is about all of us because you don’t know who will be the next target and so it is our responsibility to give information to security agencies or government that will enforce this so that we will live in peace. Honestly, when we live in this kind of fear, it is difficult to even attract investors. Today in Nigeria, the difficulties are there, the business environment is very harsh, resources that would have been coming from the Federation Account through the sale of oil is no longer coming as it used to be. And so we must find a way of providing an enabling environment for investment to come into our state. So it is our responsibility. If investments come, jobs will be given to our children, we would have jobs, and opportunities will be created for everyone now so that all of us can work. So when you have some questionable character around you, please it is your responsibility to give out information to security agencies or government so that we can go after them because that is the only way. We provided the amnesty programme through the carrot approach and pleaded with them and those who returned arms we did give them some returns and today we have engaged some of them. They are working and some are being trained to live a meaningful life. But those who rejected and are hiding it, let us do it. I know that it is political times, people say a lot of things, and people try to cast government in bad light and all that. But, it is our responsibility. Security is the responsibility of everyone and we should team up with this government. I believe that security agencies will definitely fish out the murderers of my assistant.
Your Excellency, let me quickly remind you that this is the second time this kind of high profile assassination is taking place in the state. The first was Denen Igbana, your aide on security and now we are talking about Dr. Tavershima Adyorough. I have two questions. Don’t you think that there is a lacuna in the security apparatus in the state and then quickly, how far has the investigation into the death of Denen Igbana gone?
I’ve spoken to the Commissioner of Police and other security agencies and there is need to step up surveillance and vigilance generally. But we are going to hold a security meeting which will look at it comprehensively. There are other challenges attached to it in terms of equipment, in terms of funding, in terms of several other things but these are things that government must contend with.
Are you suspecting betrayal here?
Like I told you, I don’t want to run into conclusions for now. On my own I am also investigating and the security men are also investigating and at the end we will now conclude. We will draw conclusions and then make a statement but it’s too early for me to run into conclusions. As a leader, it’s not good for you to be flippant. You say one thing today, you say another thing tomorrow. If I say a thing, it should be backed with fact and then we can take up from there. But the security men, we need to step up and there is no doubt about that and of course you know that government will also have to do some things in the midst of paucity of funds, there are certain things that are obvious which must be done. On the Denen Igbana assassination some people were arrested and prosecution is going on and as government that believes in the rule of law that is the best we can do. But the other thing is to try to prevent any of this. I know that this is not peculiar here, there are many of these insecurities that are going on. But I must also say that we have tried together with the security agencies. The kidnappings, the rate of killing and assassination that were going on, we have been able to bring it down to its barest minimum. This new wave is something we are investigating. We are looking at it from a political angle too but we don’t want to run into conclusions until we are able to identify the actual actors, then we will conclude on what to do. That too we are not closing at all. We have not closed any of the links that came to us in finding out why things like this should continue. But you can see that here in Benue State, the issue of kidnapping, we have been able to bring it down to its barest minimum and we are not sparing anyone; whether you are in government, or the vigilante or whatever, once you commit a crime, you will go for it. There was another young man who was terrorizing Abaji, in Katsina-Ala Local Government, we have arrested him. Ghana too we have not stopped. We are going after him. Those boys, last week one of his key commanders was arrested in a gun duel with the security agencies and he was killed and an AK47 with several rounds of ammunition recovered from him and so everyone terrorizing the people of Benue State, we are not going to spare them and we will definitely go after you and ensure we track them down. Even the security agencies, recently, in Abaji, a policeman was killed and his rifle was taken away from him and they will use it to perpetuate their evil act and so no one is spared. It is about all of us and so we must team up together to ensure that we overcome this.
Thank you very much, your Excellency. What the people of Benue State want to see is a peaceful state where development can thrive.
That is what I’m preaching. That is what I want to see. That is my priority. Since I came in, this is what I’ve been saying because without peace, there can be no meaningful development.
Again, the people will be happy if the perpetrators of such crimes are uncovered and made to face the wrath of the law. That will go a long way in sending signals to those who have such intentions because like my colleague asked; we had a similar incident in Buruku where a promising young man was assassinated. We had a similar issue in Katsina-Ala where an elder statesman the late Atoza Hindan was assassinated and the hope of the Benue people is that such people who are out to commit such crimes are made to face to full weight of the law.
That is my intention too and I can assure you that they will all face it. You see, from all indications those who are accused, not even convicted and are part of me, part of my government, I willingly allow them to face the law and that has been done. My Adviser when he was accused, I say well, you can go and face the law and my Commissioner when he was also accused in the Buruku incident, I also released him to the law enforcement agencies and the law has taken its course and so if I can do that to those who are close to me, who are part of me, who are part of this government and administration; nobody can be spared. I can assure you that it is top of my priority because security is very key. It must be done. I want our people to be reminded that guns were bought and distributed to a lot of our youths. Some of them returned them, some are still having them. If you know of any person with such let us know.
Thank you very much. This programme is a phone in programme and we want to throw our telephone lines open for you listener to call and make your inputs. But before then, we said from the beginning that the overriding issues of discussion will be first, your trip to the People’s Republic of China and you have done justice to that; the state of security in the state, you have just talked about it and we have come down to the third overriding issue for that matter and that is the one of salary payment – the challenges of salary payment. During your meeting with labour leaders in Benue State, an emergency was declared and down the line, Benue people are waiting for the fruit of that particular action.
Let me once again thank Benue people and the civil servants in the state for their understanding and cooperation with this administration despite insinuations from our political opponents to create some unnecessary things that will cause disaffection but I appreciate them for their understanding. One thing that has helped us is the transparent manner in which we have run this government and we challenge anyone who has issues against this government, who has facts to bring it up. But I want to advise that this government is very open. This government believes that we work together and that is why we go out constantly on town hall meetings and hear from them and call stakeholders meetings and all that. If you have anything you can tell us. When you interface and you have issues which need clarification, please ask us. Don’t listen to lies especially on social media. These are deliberate paid agents who are meant to cause disaffection, to tell lies. To tell lies about wheelbarrow, about snakes, to tell lies about salary and so on. But the truth is that let’s go back to history of when I came in. We inherited N69 billion arrears of salary, pension and gratuity in Benue State and contractual obligations for contracts that were ready for payment and were going up to N70 billion. It’s a fact and the records are there because we set up a committee that looked at those records and they are justified. So, the wage bill we inherited which the former Governor confirmed in his interview with the Leadership in February, 2015 before the election was N8.2 billion naira and this excluded minimum wage for teachers. The other ones, they did but they left the minimum wage for teachers until I came and we implemented it because these are the people who do most of the work and why should they be left out? They should be paid and so when you add that together, it went to about N8.5 billion naira. It is through the screening that we adopted that we did lot of blockages of leakages in the system, we have now come to an average of N7.8 billion, N4.1 billion at the state level, N3.7 at the local government level. This is where we are and this N4.1 at the state level includes pensions and gratuities. Pension alone is N590 million and it keeps rising because people are retiring. Permanent secretaries when they retire, go with their full salaries. How many permanent secretaries have retired since I came in? They are still being paid their full salaries and of course government must run overhead of over N500 million. So if you put all these together, it’s about an average of N4.1. At the local government level, teachers take N1.8 billion, local government staff take N1.7 billion and then pensions of N200 million. That goes to 3.7 billion. So if you add it together you are talking about an average of N7.8 billion. So we have been able to save through two major screenings that were adopted, we have been able to save N700 million. And before God and man, the former Governor confessed to me that he made a mistake and that is why he told me then that I could not run this government for three months. He told me that in his office before he handed over to me. That they made a mistake. The negotiations were not done well and hurriedly because of elections they went and endorsed a bill and at the end they discovered that it was very high and they could not pay and when they attempted to reverse it, the workers resisted. We are all here in Benue State, we all know what happened. The workers resisted it. So if you talk about a Permanent Secretary in Imo State, today he is receiving N230,000 per month, here it is over N500,000 and it cuts across and that has been a challenge. And for a state that you receive less than six billion naira every month because the IGR, you are aware of it, when you add it together; now it’s averagely N250 million. When we stepped it up, there was so much outcry and as a listening government, appeals from various well-meaning Benue people that there is so much hardship and so we had to mellow down not insisting that we will comply with the law. And so when you have a wage bill, just salary of N7.8 billion and you have an income of around six or less than six billion naira sometimes. How do you cope with this kind of challenge? Every month you have a short fall of over two billion naira and this excludes other things that must be done for government to run – security issues, the Civil Defense, the Police, the SS and if you must ensure security, you must support them because the Federal Government will not have the funding to help them cope with the challenges that are available. Government must run, you must receive visitors, you must travel, and you must get things done. Every day, all these things are done with the monies that come. So when you have an amount of around six billion and you have a wage bill of N7.8 billion, it becomes a problem. That is why we have a shortfall. We wouldn’t be talking about salary if we had enough money coming. That is why at the state level now, we have arrears of five months, at the local government level, we have arrears of eight months. But let me make this clarification to the Benue people. Those who wish me bad and want to crucify me for not doing anything because I have openly said that if you know any corrupt thing that this government has done, please bring it up or if it is not me, if is any of my assistants, please bring it up and it will help and till now,nobody has brought up anything to portray that we are corrupt or that we have diverted money and so on. The money is not there and that is why I went into agreement with labour that look let us look at this together so that nobody will go back and insinuate that we diverted money or we are taking it for our personal things and all that and so what we agreed with the labour union is that, initially, my suggestion was that since this money is not enough but it can take half salary for everybody, let us be paying half salary, for every month, let us pay. But they said that no, it will not be convenient for them and that it was better that we merged two months and pay one month’s full salary and that is what we have been doing. For for every category of worker in Benue State, for every two months they get full salary for a month. You are also here, you are also part of them and you have been getting that. And sometimes when the situation improves a little we are able to make it especially at the state level, we are able to pay more and so this is the challenge. And now I hear people say that their leaders have compromised and so on and they have given an ultimatum that they will go on strike. I’m going to meet with them and we will discuss, we will put things straight and if they know about anything, they can bring it up and then we will discuss and I think we will be over with this. But it is a big challenge. As a Christian, I believe that the worker deserves his wages, they should get it. We declared state of emergency for several reasons. One of them was to give priority to the issue of salary payment when we get money and that is why we have suspended all the projects that were on. The person who is not a civil servant wants roads, wants bridges, and all that that he can cross and go his farm, to his village and all that but we have to place payment of salaries as a priority and so all the projects that we undertook when we came in including completion of abandoned projects, we suspended them and placed priority on payment of salaries. And another reason why we declared state of emergency is to check and scrutinize and identify these workers because there are people in Lagos, people in Kano, people in Abuja, people in Makurdi here who don’t go to work or who are doing other businesses or work somewhere but they still collect salary from government. This is a fact. I set up the Ikyaabo, a retired Permanent Secretary’s Committee and they went out and discovered that in one year they identified N1.4 billion which was spent on people who had retired and were not supposed to be collecting pay. N1.4 billion in one year and I decided that I will do modified table payment and that is what we are doing currently and that committee is headed by the Deputy Governor of Benue State, Engr. Benson Abounu. That committee is doing an excellent work. They have been able to verify who is a worker so that at the end of the day, we will identify those ghost workers and pull them out of the wage bill. At the local government, the chairmen are doing well. I received an interim report for a local government that had a pay list of 930 people, they went and did physical verification of those teachers in that local government and discovered that they were only 620. So the other people have just been collecting money. You go to a primary school that has just two or three teachers and on the pay list, you have seven people. So we had to do this to ensure that we pay those who are actually doing the work but those who are ghosts, we will pull them out of the system. This is what we are doing and it is on-going and we look forward that we will be able to overcome this. It is my intention because I know that that is the challenge I have. In other areas, I have done well but this issue of salary payment is a problem. But let me say again that it is not my making. Despite the fact that we inherited over N69 billion because of the bail out that came, the Paris Club that we have been able to use to pay salaries, we have reduced it and because of the short fall it’s like the thing has not reduced drastically which I had explained earlier. An income of about six billion naira and we are having a wage bill of about N7.8 billion every month. The challenge is still there but we are around N40 billion to be paid. That is why when some people who spoke to me who were concerned that the last tranche of Paris Club that came, N6.8 billion, some of my good friends, some who wish me well had admonished and advised me that please use that money to clear the arrears and I tried to explain to them that look, that money is not enough. Look, the arrears of salary I have today is over 40 billion and that the money that came was only six billion and we have been able to fund payment of salaries as we discussed. We agreed that we will pay 80% and at the end we had even spent more than the 80%. We agreed on that but it was N6.8 billion and so many people are mixing things up. It was only N6.8 billion and the local government share was N2.9 billion, 45% of the amount and we gave it to them and with the allocation that came, they were able to pay teachers two months. Nobody will talk about this when they collect this money. They won’t talk about it. We were able to pay teachers two months last month at the local government level and then pay complete salary to local government staff because of this Paris Club refund that came. Then at the state level, we were also able to pay complete salaries to all categories of workers because of the allocation that came and then the refund which was about N3.5 billion. That was the share of the state and out of this we paid the Benue State University because you know they were on strike and they came back and so we needed to meet up with our commitment with them, N714 million. And we set aside N250 million, this one, I think the Head of Service is in the process of disbursing it N250 million for gratuity for our civil servants who have retired and their money has accumulated there and I think theirs alone out of the N40 billion I’m talking about, theirs is N17 billion and I decided that no matter how small, let them feel the impact. If you get 200 or 500,000 thousand out of your gratuity, it can also help. So we have made the money available and the Head of Service is working on the distribution. So at the end, we were able to spend more than 80% which is what we said we were going to spend on the Paris Club Refund. So these are the problems we have with salaries. One last thing I want to say about this is that it is not an excuse but it’s just to try to compare notes, it’s important. Today in Nigeria, 24 states are not able to pay salaries as at when due and some are owing as much as 24 months. Some 12, some 15, some 17 and even in oil producing states like Bayelsa and Ondo, they are owing seven, eight months and they receive derivation of 13% apart from the allocation that comes which we collect and if these people are owing, we should also appreciate. The main reason for this is that we have over stayed on depending on oil revenue. It used to be $140 per barrel; today it is around $50. So it is a big challenge that we have to contend with. That is why I keep encouraging our people that let us not be distracted. I have brought Bank of Industry to Benue State, I have brought Bank of Agriculture to Benue State. Central Bank gave us two billion naira and we have distributed. We have entered into partnership, Bank of Industry were given one billion, they counter funded another one billion and so we have two billion in that account for people to access and go into business, go into farming and all that. And we have also partnered with Bank of Agriculture, N500 million each. We have one billion to be distributed to those who are willing. And because the issue of collateral was becoming a problem, our people were finding it difficult to access these loans and I had to create a memo to council and that we had to give a tax holiday to allow 50% discount for everyone that wishes to process his C of O. So these are the issues. It’s a contentious issue, it’s an issue that worries me. I’m honestly not sleeping but I want to assure the people of Benue State that monies have not been diverted like the previous people did and the previous people who diverted money are the ones responsible for spreading falsehood and lies because the Kpojime Commission of Inquiry indicted them to refund N107 billion. There is another N44 billion that they stole that Kpojime could not conclude and they gave us back and we are yet to verify those ones. But we are out to ensure that these people refund these monies. They have taken us to court and I think we have more than 40 cases in court trying to play around that they will not refund. But those who are sincere with themselves like San Karlos succeeded in refunding N370 million back to the state coffers which we sent back to the treasury. And the N4.5 billion bond that was collected and diverted by the past administration; diverted completely, taken away for their personal needs. They are using this money to fight us, buy some youth who are spreading falsehood everywhere. We succeeded and wrote and petition to SEC and SEC directed the bank to refund that money to us though the diversion through overdraft which was collected, we agreed that we will pay back within a period of four years which is on-going. But the money has been refunded and SEC directed that the money should go for those projects. So today contractors who were in the prospectus – those handling the Tarka-Igbor road, Obussa-Utonkon-Oju road, Tor-Donga-Zaki-Biam road, Zaki-Biam-Afia road. And all those roads, all the contractors based on the directive of SEC; because bond monies are meant for specific projects and they insisted that this money should go for those projects. These people handling these projects were paid last week and the projects will be completed and the people there will enjoy them. So these are issues and these people are not happy and they are the same people trying to deceive Benue people. Benue people should not be deceived. They should be wise. Our government is open and where there are issues, let us know. We are willing to avail to you the opportunity. But this thing of social media that people tell lies, please don’t listen to them. If you feel very strong about an issue in this government, please find out from my assistants, from commissioners, from advisers, or through this forum. We will always find a way of addressing it otherwise this is a distraction. But I’m not distracted. I will never be distracted by these people and they cannot come through the back door and deceive the people. They were deceit and we have brought transparency, we have brought the fear of God into governance, we have allowed everything to be on the table, we have given room to be challenged. And as a God fearing Governor and government, we have refused to join issues with people, we have not gone after people, beating them or tying to suppress anybody. Freedom of speech, people can say anything but they should do it within the confines of the law. They should say the truth. When you say the ones that are lies, we will go after you. Like we did on Abubakar Tsav. People should say the truth and we are willing to work with them. But when you tell lies about us, you should be able to justify your claims and I think that is the new stand of government and myself that when you tell blatant lies, you should be able to justify it to make it known. The Attorney General took Abubakar Tsav to court just to justify. We met with him and he agreed to apologize but later declined and so the case is going to continue so that Benue people will know all those allegations which he brought he should provide them in court and then government should also defend the matter. On the matter of salary it is top of my priority, but it’s just the paucity of funds. But as I talk to you, 24 states in Nigeria cannot pay salaries as at when due. When we meet in Abuja with the President, the President is concerned, all of us as Governors, we are deeply concerned but Benue State is a peculiar matter because of the mistake that the past administration which the former governor admitted they had done. How can you say that Benue wage bill is more Kaduna or Kano with 44 local governments? That is the problem. They were not diligent in handling the matter and then it has created problems. If I had my way, what an average civil servant is collecting today I will double it because I go to the market, I know what the environment is. Things are difficult and so you cannot even talk about reducing what an average civil servant is collecting at this particular time.
Thank you very much Your Excellency. Like I said earlier, this is the time we throw open our telephone lines so that people can also call. But I want to say here that your government has the best arsenal as far as persecuting those who have dabbled themselves into criminal activities. Today, we have a Professor of Law, who is the Secretary to the State Government, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria for that matter, Anthony Ijohor. We also have in this studio the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Honourable Barrister Michael Gusa. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, this issue of pay roll padding, you know this issue has been an issue of concern in Benue State. His Excellency explained that since he came on board, series of screening exercises had been carried out and monies saved. You know definitely, people who caused this problem were fingered, people bringing in names which are not supposed to be on the pay roll. To me as a lay man, that is a criminal act and again he talked about some people who have been indicted to have diverted over N107 billion which is a huge amount of money and you are part of the government and the people of Benue State will tomorrow begin to ask questions that Professor Tony Ijohor was part of it and nothing happened to those people.
Thank you for your question. The truth is that persecution in matters like this is not an easy task. In the first place, there must be proper investigation and that proper investigation normally comes from the bodies established by law. If you remember, the report of the Commission of Inquiry was sent to the EFCC and then the ICPC. Those bodies have been carrying out their investigations and in some cases, I know as a matter of fact that most of the principal characters in the matter have appeared before the commission to explain their roles. Sometimes persecution is slow, but at the end of the day, the result is what matters. So, I’m the Secretary to the State Government, I’m a Professor of Law, I’m a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, I don’t deny that but then the law has to take its course.
The Attorney General wants to say something.
Yes. In addition to what my boss, the SSG has said, I want to say that the Commission of Inquiry which was headed by Justice Kpojime was a fact finding commission which indeed submitted her reports, its findings which we have also submitted to the prosecuting bodies – the EFCC, the ICPC and even the Police and I want to tell the Benue public that investigations have been concluded and cases have been filed in court against these persons and that they will soon be appearing in court. You are also aware that the former Governor was arraigned and he appeared in court alongside some of the culprits in the matter. Again, some persons have also been arraigned because the charges have been filed in the Federal High Court in Abuja and indeed some of the cases are going to filed here in Benue State so that is where we are in that regard.
Your Excellency, before we go for the break let me draw your attention to this matter. You recall that on Tuesday, your Deputy, Engr. Benson Abounu was in our studio here and he did talk about this salary issue that we are talking about here and he brought out a salient issue. He said that the government is suspecting an insider connection with the banks in padding these salaries. As the number one citizen of the state, what is your reaction on this matter?
Well, it is very clear. Like I said we want to eliminate salary padding, ghost workers and whatever you may call it. We will find a solution to this salary matter and so I’m going to do everything under the sun to ensure this. He is the chairman of the committee and I understand that by the middle of next month, he he is expected to submit a comprehensive report to me and then we will discuss in council and take some drastic actions and I think people will be punished for this. Those who are found to be causing this hardship and pains to our people and even to me because I hear the insults being capitalized upon by these 52 indicted people including the former governor who go about blackmailing and all sorts of things, telling lies about the salary matter; something he created. The only thing is that they found themselves deceiving the people and they want to do the same thing. So they try to turn white to black and say all kinds of lies about this government because of the indictment and they are using the money they stole from the Benue people to influence a lot of things, buy some boys who do not have other jobs and so on. So these are the issues and we are going to handle them and like the SSG and the Attorney General have said, we are not stopping at anything, we are going to prosecute them. Some of them we are going to file independent charges here in Benue State because the law permits that against them on these issues of outright stealing that they did. The records are there and like I said this N107 was what the Justice Kpojime Commission of Inquiry brought out. There is another N44 billion which is still pending. And like I said, we have recovered N4.5 billion – money which they diverted. Somebody who didn’t want to create problems because he is not an indigene, he is a Mexican who came to do business here and collected N370 million, he has refunded that money and all that we are telling these people is that they should refund the money. If they refund this money, the total arrears that I have is less than about N40 billion and they’re holding N107 billion. If you take N40 billion out, you have over 60 billion to do everything that is needed to be done. All these infrastructural development, all the problems we have, strike and all that, we will settle them. We won’t allow our children to be there on the streets and so on.