One year ago in this very arena, I was sworn in as the fifth Civilian Governor of Benue State. In accepting my mandate I made solemn declarations to the good people of Benue state. I had pledged to govern with the fear of God translating to core values of transparency, accountability, fairness, justice, humility, selflessness, disciple, integrity, integration, forgiveness and reconciliation which shall engender peace and unity as well as make development inevitable.
I also promised you that our government shall have zero tolerance for corruption and any government official who misappropriates public funds would be punished. Our philosophy is that which regards public office as an opportunity to serve and not that for amassing illegal wealth.
2. I also clearly stated that our vision for change will not be realized by chance. It would require focus, determination and boldness. I had promised to unveil and disclose a huge debt burden which the last administration left behind in forms of external and internal loans, unpaid salaries and allowances as well as retirement benefits. We have verified and found that the last administration left behind a total debt burden of over N169 billion.
3. I had told you that the major policy thrust of my administration would be:
i. Good governance and revenue security;
ii. Agricultural-Driven Industrialization;
iii. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM)-Based Education and Health Services;
iv. Investment in critical infrastructure; and
v. Promoting gender equality and empowering women, youth, sports, and persons with disabilities.
4. I also spoke about the need to contain terror, thuggrey and introduce amnesty and reintegration of unlawful armed youth who would surrender.
5. I had clearly known that the road would be rough and tough with giants on the way to hinder, but the God I trust will surely give us victory.
6. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, after one year of walk and work with you, let me publicly declare that the Lord has been good. He has blessed us and given us more reasons to trust in Him not only now but, as long as I live. I have found favour in God, I can run a good race with Him, stay on course for a strong finish. I have also benefited a great deal from the favour and kind cooperation of my dear wife Dr. Eunice Erdoo Ortomand family in this one year and I know she will go all along with me to the end. Let me acknowledge my Deputy Engr. Benson Abounu, and our leader Distinguished Senator George Akume for their services, advice and profound commitment to this project during one year of our young administration. I cherish the kind cooperation of the Hon. Speaker, Hon. Terkimbi Ikyange and Honourable members of the Benue state House of assembly as well as the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Iorhemen Hwande and members of the judiciary. Let me also salute other leaders, and especially Distinguished Senator Barnabas Gemade and other Benue state members in the National Assembly,Chief Audu Ogbe, the Hon Minister of Agriculture deserves special mentioning because of every support and encouragement he gives. I salute our indefatigable APC state chairman, Comrade Abba Yaro, members of his EXCO and entire membership of our great party, APC for their inputs and determination to ensure good governance in our state. I commend the great people of Benue state who massively voted for me for their resilience in keeping faith with the change agenda. We will never let you down until a new Benue of our dream is realized.
7. The last one year was busy and fulfilling and a year of uncommon achievements in service delivery. Together with my cabinet, we have carefully focused on my campaign promises, making every effort to translate my blueprint to reality. All I have achieved in 12 months is a result of collective effort and is beyond the expectation of those who laid booby traps for us. Now we can clearly see the hand of God in the governance of this state.
8. In good governance, I have kept faith with the people of Benue. I have refused to be distracted. I have remained focused and prudent in the use and application of scare resources. I have maintained a slim but effective government reducing ministries and commissioners from 17 to 13 and Special Advisers from 30 to 20. Ministries and agencies of government have been carefully restructured to eliminate waste. We have implemented amnesty programme which is hailed at home and abroad and acknowledged by United Nations as a desirable model for peace in Africa. An achievement which has become a subject of envy in some quarters.
9. The Benue State Internal Revenue Services (BIRS) has been restructured for effectiveness and the law setting up BIRS is being reviewed to eliminate anti-people and harsh provisions. This restructuring has resulted in some improvement in our IGR from N250 million to about N500 million monthly.
10. We have set up various panels and commissions including visitation panels to the Benue State University and other tertiary institutions in the State. This has helped us and is helping us to appreciate their challenges in order to appropriately address them. The Justice Kpojime and Assets Verification Commissions have submitted reports, and a white paper has been issued. The Kpojime Commission found that N107 billion was crudely misappropriated by the last administration and every effort is being made by the state government and the EFCC to recover the money so that we can invest in our development programs.
11. In collaboration with the Federal Government, we have accessed soft loans popularly known as bailout to pay salary arrears of civil servants that could not be paid by the last administration. Both State and Local government arrears have been cleared. We have also obtained infrastructure facility to deal with challenges of urban, rural and State roads. Let me pause and commend our President Muhammadu Buhari for his great concern and support given to our state to stay afloat. With the facility we now have recalled contractors back to 12 Roads in the 3 senatorial zones that were abandoned by the last administration. We have also awarded contracts for three new roads including Origbo-Imande – Akpu – Gbajimba road and contractors have been mobilized to site.
12. Our achievements in the area of education, health and agriculture in the last one year are known to many of you. We now have graduated 40 doctors at BSU Medical School, a feat that could not be accomplished in 12 years. Our School of Nursing and Midwifery are re-positioned and may soon receive accreditation to start admitting students again.
13. We have improved in the provision of Social Services. Water now runs in Katsina-Ala and Otukpo and soon other major towns and State capital will have adequate water supply. An abridged list of our achievements in all sectors is being circulated and there are enough copies for all.
14. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the atmosphere in the Benue Peoples House when we took over has not just being warm, but indeed very hot. Government was and is being faced with avalanche of challenges. Some of these were deliberately created by the last administration to make governance difficult, if not impossible.
15. We entered a dark, cloudy and unholy place where wickedness and impunity reigned. The spirits of opposition and disobedience to God hovered around the seat of government. We have sanitized the place and made it calm and have subjected it to the counsel of Almighty God with noble men at the gates! Nothing can enter these gates unless they bow to almighty, my God and your God.
16. I have deeply reflected on the challenges facing Benue state. I have asked myself: How can we pay salaries of N4 billion each month when we receive just about N2 billion per month? The last administration collected an average of N5billion each month from the Federation account. How can we clear the arrears of salaries and pensions? How can we deal with corruption and corrupt officers? How can we resurrect our moribund industries? How can we make our schools come back to live and provide good education to our children? How can we overcome poverty, ignorance and disease? How can we regrow and reinvigorate our civil service? How can we deal with the serious issue of unemployment? How can we serve our farmers from invasion by the Fulani herdsmen? Why should my security staff, Denen Igbana, be murdered? How can we keep our towns clean? How can we deal with ethnicity and nepotism compromising our capacity and productivity? Why should impunity thrive in the land? How can we unite the sharply divided political class and political leaders in the state?
17. And above all, how can we deal with Sin in our land? Benue is involved with sins of wickedness, slander, disobedience, heavy involvement in occult, jealousy, pride, violence, disunity, immorality, shedding of innocent blood, robbery, kidnapping, corruption, arrogance, drunkenness and other vile practices that have polluted the State and brought us to where we are now.
18. When God opened my eyes to see the sins of Benue. I was greatly distressed. I then decided that it was better to bring all these before God. God has compassion over all he has created. God showed me an example of the State of Israel that was destroyed because of Sin, and how he sent his servant Nehemiah to reconstruct the collapsing walls. Then God said to me: If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.
19. As your Governor and Leader, God has made me to realize the problem of Benue and its people. We have abandoned God. We have gone after other gods. We have abandoned the truth of his words. We have abandoned his path and are all eager to embrace evil ways.
20. As Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem so do I call on all sons and daughters to return to God. I had declared 14 days of prayer and fasting from May 16 to May 29 for Benue and all who live here: the Clergy and laity, government officials, legislators, judiciary, men, civil servants, women, youth, children, protestants, Catholics and Moslems, private sector and all segment of Benue society had opportunity to confess before the Lord and obtain forgiveness. During the 14 days of praying and fasting, we cried to God. We asked forgiveness. God say if my people confess their sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
21. In obedience to God, I, Samuel Ortom as the Governor of Benue State, this day, 30th May, 2016, do hereby lead all sons and daughters of Benue State including those in diaspora back to God. We all return to God today and now with great humility and trembling. We all today dedicate ourselves to God because only God can forgive our sins and also heal our land.
22. Finally, let me call on representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ in Benue State to join me here for prayer of dedication.