Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has directed the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs to pay the October and November 2011 salary arrears of some local government staff who were not paid at that time.
He gave the directive during the on-going town hall meetings.
Governor Ortom stated that even though the arrears were not captured in the initial bailout loan that was obtained it could be paid from the savings of N1.4 billion made from the prudent management of the N15.5 billion facility for payment of local government salary arrears.
According to him, he gave the directive because at the end of June, 2016, all matters concerning the local government bailout would be concluded pointing out that since the money was for payment of salary arrears those affected in 2011 should be paid.
The Governor explained that the difficulty in the payment of salaries was a consequence of dwindling allocation from the Federal allocation arising from falling oil prices and pipeline vandalism.
He said 27 states in the country have difficulty in salary payment and said efforts were being made to raise internally generated revenue in the state to tackle the challenge while further efforts to verify the staff on the payroll were on-going using the Bank Verification Number.
Governor Ortom stated that his administration has embarked on cost saving measures by reducing the size of government machinery, travels and trimming of his allowances and those of his deputy.
The meetings have already been held with stakeholders in Katsina-Ala, Ukum, Logo, Buruku, Tarka, Gboko, Ushongo, Kwande, Vandeikya and Konshisha.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, today announced that he has directed the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice to commence prosecution of those indicted by the Justice Kpojime Commission for looting N107 billion from the coffers of the state.
Major Stakeholders in the six local government areas which form two intermediate areas in the Tiv speaking part of Benue State known as Sankera and Jemgbagh yesterday lauded Governor Ortom for initiating the Town Hall meetings across the state.
Prominent sons and daughters from the six council areas of Katsina-Ala, Ukum, Logo, Buruku, Tarka and Gboko gathered and interacted with Governor Ortom in Katsina-Ala and Gboko.
All the 21 ...speakers who included community, religious, traditional, political and organized labour leaders as well as women and youth stated that apart from the military era when meet the peoples tour were organized the meetings were the first of their kind in the civilian dispensation in the state.
Messrs Augustine Avaan, Aloysuis Apera, and Abu King Shuluwa spoke for Katsina-Ala; Imbautsa Alaigyu, Shaapera Bameun, and Godwin Akaan for Logo; while Ninga Biam, Lord Williams Annase, and Fabian Chiata spoke for Ukum.
Chief Jimmy Meeme spoke for traditional rulers in the Sankera axis while Comrade Jonathan Angu spoke for labour.
For Jemgbagh the speakers were Haa Orpin, Moses Hanior, and Kuma Agudo for Gboko, Buruku and Tarka respectively.
Others were Chief Mrs Regina Akume, Sunny Nyior, Reverend James Orvannya, Professor Godwin Abari, Terese Tange, Jacob Jam and Chief Afaityo Ajoko for women, youths, the Christian Association of Nigeria, leaders of tertiary institutions, Tiv Youth Organization, students and royal fathers.
They lauded the Governor's amnesty programme, the resumption of work on abandoned roads, graduation of medical doctors at the Benue State University, the reconstruction of the Schools of Nursing and Midwifery as well as College of Health Sciences at Agasha for reaccreditation in addition to resumption of water supply in Otukpo and Katsina-Ala.
The stakeholders however, expressed worry about the incessant herdsmen's attacks on various communities with attendant killings, destruction and displacement of large number of people warning that there were threats of impending hunger in the land as thousands of farmers had been displaced.
The speakers requested the Governor to take urgent steps to address rising criminality, unpaid salaries and pensions, youth unemployment, and gender imbalance in appointments.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, has reiterated his appeal to the people of the state to engage in massive agricultural activities to boost the economy of the state during the current economic downturn.
He spoke separately during town hall meetings with Sankera and Jemgbagh people in Katsina-Ala and Gboko.
Stakeholders from six local government areas of Katsina-Ala, Ukum, Logo, Buruku,Tarka and Gboko turned up for the meetings.
The Governor disclosed that the Central Bank of Nigeria has set aside N7 billion to provide credit facility to farmers across the country and urged individuals and groups to take advantage of the policy and apply for loans.
According to him the Banks of Industry and Agriculture could also be approached for loans which he said the state government could facilitate.
Governor Ortom stated that information made available at the last National Economic Council indicated harder times ahead hence the need for the people of the state to exploit the agriculture window where the state has comparative and competitive advantages.
He lamented herdsmen's invasion of several parts of the state with attendant destruction of lives and property saying it was a major threat to the very existence of the people of the state.
The Governor promised to take up the matter of the failure of security agencies to apprehend even one invader since the attacks on communities started in the state while enormous expenditure was made on them.
He said the issue was a national problem which required the unity of all stakeholders to tackle and appealed to the people not to take the law into their hands no matter the provocation.
Those who spoke at the meetings commended the Governor for the town hall meetings saying he was the first civilian Chief executive to initiative such a programme and urged him to sustain it.
The report by the online medium called Benue. com in which Governor Ortom was quoted to have said that "civil servants in the state are idle at work" is a figment of the writer's imagination.
We expected the medium to state precisely where in Abuja that Governor Ortom made the quoted statement, but it failed to do so implying that the authors of the story either depended on gossip which has no place in journalism or simply manufactured the skewed story having read genuine reports by journalists who interviewed the Governor at the Aso Rock Villa.
Governor Ortom addressed State House Correspondents yesterday shortly after he met with the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and at no point during the interview did he describe Benue workers as iddle.
Governor Ortom has enormous love and value for civil servants of the state and he has at different times expressed empathy with the workers in the difficult times they face arising from the challenge of delayed salaries.
Shortly after meeting labour unions on Tuesday this week, the Governor, while speaking to journalists made the following statement as reported on page 43 of New Telegraph newspaper of 16th June, 2016:
"Workers in Benue State are part of me, they contributed immensely in making me governor and there is no way I will toy with their welfare", he emphasized.
A Governor who made the above statement certainly won't renege on his words barely 24 hours later and criticize the same workers he cherishes.
To put the records straight, below is the transcript of the interview Governor Ortom granted State House Correspondents at the Aso Rock Villa yesterday:
"I have cut short my vacation to address some critical issues of the state, most especially security matters, economic matters, social vices and state matters that require my urgent attention. I have postponed the vacation indefinitely.
I cannot in any way surrender my state to criminals. I am going to fight them headlong. I am the governor of Benue State, I was duly elected and I have the backing of my people to fight criminals so that we can have a free society to build our economy.
On security, we just need to strengthen ourselves and fight the criminals that are unleashing terror on our people.
We have dedicated the state to God and we trust Him that He will help us. I trusted Him to become governor and I became a governor. I am also trusting Him to succeed.
By the time I am rounding off my tenure as governor in the next three years, by the grace of God, ignorance, poverty and diseases would have been eradicated in the state.
The amnesty programme succeeded because more than 800 young people came out and surrendered. We have in our possession over 600 assorted weapons and ammunition that we collected from these young men.
The last dispensation believed in violence. My predecessor and his cohorts believed they could take everything by force and they bought these arms and gave to young men. I am appealing to them to still return those arms.
Now that the carrot approach of the amnesty programme is over, we will adopt the stick approach. We are going to pursue them to their homes. Wherever they are, we are going to arrest them and prosecute them. We are going to go after them fully.
On Critics of Friday holiday
The programme is well received. Benue State has comparative advantage in agriculture.
Now, we are finding it difficult to pay salaries. We are down by four months at the state level and five months at the local government level.
Coming to a state that is more of civil service, I have said that I have declared Fridays as public holidays because this is cropping period.
They should go to the farm between now and the end of July that is cropping period. This can help because no matter how little, whatever they contribute in agriculture will add value to the state economy.
The people of the state have accepted it very well. Anybody who is criticising this is completely ignorant about the programme.
In any case, because there are no salaries, you know the morale of workers is even low. Apart from that, the money to prosecute good projects is not there.
I am a farmer and I am demonstrating it. I am going into the farm myself and everybody has keyed into the programme. They are happy.
Workers were with me yesterday and they expressed appreciation to government to be magnanimous to give them Friday to go to the farms."
Governor Ortom is focused on the task of salvaging the state from the debris of maladministration which culminated in massive diversion of public funds by the previous administration, so no amount of sponsored falsehood can distract him.
Labour Unions in Benue State have thrown their support behind the Ortom administration to prosecute the 52 indicted persons and recover the N107 billion looted by the immediate past Government in the state.
Delegations from the various unions made this position known at the Benue Peoples House, Makurdi during a meeting with Governor Samuel Ortom.
The union leaders lamented the current difficult financial situation the state has found itself resulting to non payment of salaries; a development they attributed to the mismanagement of the huge resources of the state by the previous administration.
They urged Governor Ortom not to allow the dwindling economic situation prevent the government from looking outside the box to find ways of paying workers salaries and embarking on other development projects.
The State Chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Godwin Anya commended Governor Ortom for declaring Fridays work free days for Benue workers to enable them engage in farming activities.
He appealed to the State Government to expedite action on the resumption of prompt payment of salaries as the workers were going through difficult times.
Also speaking, State Chairman of Trade Union Congress, TUC, Comrade Ordue Tartenger urged the State Government to ensure regular promotion of deserving staff.
Responding, Governor Ortom said the meeting was part of his administration's policy to carry stakeholders along in the programmes and actions of government.
He thanked them for cooperating with his administration, explaining that the current financial situation was made worse by activities of vandals of oil installations in the Niger Delta region.
Governor Ortom said talks between the Federal Government and States had intensified to arrive at a solution to the present economic challenges and appealed to the industrial unions for understanding.
He advised workers of the state to embrace agriculture to complement their wages.
Since assumption of office, one of the issues that have featured in nearly every speech (written or unwritten) made by Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom is security. At the centre of the security challenge in the state is the invasion of communities by herdsmen leading to the killing of hundreds of innocent people and destruction of property worth billions of naira.
In all of the unwarranted attacks, Governor Ortom has remained consistent on his stand that Benue has no land for grazing of livestock; that ranching of cattle is the way to go. He recently assured the people of the state that his administration will soon send a bill to the State House of Assembly for the enactment of a law to prohibit open rearing and grazing of livestock in the state.
Now Governor Ortom has made real that promise. The State Executive Council has completed work on the bill and it has been forwarded to the state lawmakers. The proposed legislation is known as 'Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill'. This is no doubt one of the boldest steps taken by the Ortom administration to find a lasting solution to the frequent invasion of Benue communities by herdsmen and unwarranted blood spilling. It is one of the decisions by the present administration which have drawn applause across political divides.
But not every Benue person may be aware of what the proposed law contains and its benefits to the people. This piece therefore highlights aspects of the bill.
The Benue State 'Open Gazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill, in addition to prohibiting open grazing, also seeks to provide for the establishment of ranches and the Benue State Livestock and Ranches Administration and Control Committee as well as Livestock Special Marshals Corps. The window of job creation immanent here needs not be overstated.
The bill when passed, will promote among others, technics of animal husbandry, particularly the rearing of livestock. It will also create job and investment opportunities in livestock farming as well as expand the agriculture value chain. The law will prevent the destruction of crops and community ponds, settlements and property by open grazing of livestock. The law will similarly curb clashes between herders and farmers in the state.
Perhaps one of the key takeaways of the bill is the proposed establishment of the Benue State Livestock and Ranch Administration and Control Committee. The thinking of the State Government is to empower the committee to regulate the rearing of livestock in the state and turn the hitherto challenging security situation into a basin of economic opportunities for the people of the state.
A few of the responsibilities of the committee, subject to the amendment/approval of the Benue State House of Assembly, will include inspection, certification and registration of all ranches established in the state and issuance of permits for ad hoc grazing ranches where necessary.
The committee will also have the mandate to prescribe and provide guidelines for minimum hygiene standards for meat and daily activities at personal, commercial and general ranches. It will also ensure that all approved ranches are properly secured to prevent livestock from straying. The committee shall also establish and maintain a special State Livestock Control, Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranch Administration Marshals Corps for the state with units in each of the 23 local government areas of the state.
The bill also makes provision for penalties on those who may breach the law, be they herdsmen or cattle rustlers.
The Benue State 'Open Gazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Bill, when passed into law, will surely be one piece of legislation not only coming at the right time but will also set to console a people in distress, a people whose land known for its rich nature has been turned into a slaughter field flowing with the blood of the innocent farmer.