Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, is a happy and sad man. He assumed office with a sense of excitement, promising to change the landscape and standard of living of his people. But after walking the talk for one year, he has discovered that the state is enmeshed in huge debts, with arrears of salaries of civil servants at both state and local government level, constituting a serious challenge to his administration. While that remains, accusation of his administration milking the state's lean purse has reverberated, causing him to be furious over the claim.
In this interview, Governor Ortom, dispelled the rumours about missing state funds and pointed accusing fingers at those he claimed looted the state to the tune of over N107 billion. According to him, the looters are still after him and his administration, using the funds they stole from the state to try to derail him from delivering on his campaign promises to the people of the state. Excerpts:
How would you describe the last one year in office as governor?
Well, I can boldly say that so far, so good. We have achieved a reasonable level of success given what we met on the ground and given our scarce resources at hand. But it is a success story all the same.
We are all aware of what has happened to the nation's economy and Benue State is not an exception. And don't forget that I met an empty treasury with huge amount of pension and salary arrears and huge contractual obligations. It has been very difficult but I must give glory to God for the opportunity to serve Benue people.
One thing that is working for us under my leadership is that we have been prudent in the management of the state's resources because like I promised during the electioneering campaigns, I am leading with the fear of God and we have been very transparent in all that we do and will ever do.
We have ensured equity, justice and accountability and we are selfless in our service to the people of the state. We did not come to just make money for ourselves but to add value to the state and its people. So far, we have been able to achieve some milestones in all sectors of the state. The issue of salary arrears has been reduced. We have been able to so far access N28 billion bailout for state and local government workers salaries.
So what did you do with the bailout cash given Benue State by the Federal Government?
We have been able to pay four months arrears to state and local government workers and because of the strategy of reducing ghost workers we have succeeded in saving some funds. We have been able to bring back our development partners who had been driven away by debts.
For instance, we have been able to secure N5.5 billion loan to pay our counterpart fund for UBEC and our development partners. We have N7.6 billion in our account for our primary schools. This will provide instructional materials, water, new structures and renovating schools. In the health sector, we have done well too.
The school of Nursing and Midwifery which was shut for over three years will soon bounce back because we have already applied to the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria for accreditation for operations and we believe that within this year, we should be recruiting new students for the school. We have been doing same for the Benue State University Teaching Hospital.
The accreditation that was withdrawn is also being restored including that of the College of Health Sciences. Students who were admitted for the pioneer set were there for 12 years but that has been restored. Since my assumption of office, 76 doctors have graduated from the school. We want to strengthen our primary, Secondary and tertiary institutions. We have outlawed miracle education centres in our state because we want the best for the state.
The state also recently received N10 billion loan from the Federal Government. What was that used for?
We injected the N10 billion loan into the provision of infrastructure in the state. Today, 13 roads which were abandoned by the previous administration, forcing the contractors to pull out of their sites, are being worked on by the contractors who have been paid outstanding sums and they have all returned to the sites in all the zones in the state.
We are also providing new roads including a link road to the governor's local government area, which had no access before now. The road is under construction and another linking Makurdi suburb. We believe that great talents can be sourced from them.
But there are several petitions against you and your government before the EFCC alleging diversion of the bailout cash given to the state by the Federal Government. How do you respond to the claim?
I am laughing at them because no single kobo was diverted to anybody's account. The allegation is a mere diversionary tactic by the previous administration because we have asked them to refund the N107 billion they misused. They were indicted for fraudulent activities. I challenge them to bring the document showing how I diverted the sum they are talking about.
I have never authorised anybody to do so and will never do it. They should even talk about millions not billions, and if they know of any kobo which I diverted, they should bring the evidence. Look, let me say that if there is one government that is transparent, it is that of Gov Samuel Ortom.
Single treasury account
All this is aimed at diverting my attention from the development of the state. I tell you the truth, ask my labour leaders. We discuss whatever comes into the state in terms of money at the end of every month.
We don't hide anything that we collect. It is not true. It is unfounded. No such money has passed into anybody's account. The N900 million they claimed my administration diverted is an accumulation of security expenditure.
We even shut all accounts run by the previous government and run one single treasury account that is domiciled in one bank. We are mindful of what the anti-corruption agencies are doing and we cannot tamper with any money that belongs to the state.
What are you doing to curb rising security challenges in Benue State?
The issue of security is paramount to us, as security to lives and property is the major thing we owe the people. We need to prepare the state to be conducive for investments. It is through a secured environment that investors can come into Benue State. That was why we granted amnesty to those who possess illegal weapons and over 600 youths surrendered.
But some people are being instigated to engage in crimes and all this is happening because we want to recover over N107 billion they stole all in a bid to cause confusion and divert attention. But we cannot be distracted. We will use the carrot and stick approach to get the state on a sound footing.
We are prepared for criminals and we will go after anyone who engages in crime. Wherever the criminals are, we will get at them. I will not allow criminals to take over the state from me.
Why did you postpone the conduct of a well publicised Local Government poll in your state?
I got a budget of N1.5 billion but later scaled it down to N860 million.
Postponing the election
I don't have that kind of money and that was why we postponed the election because I cannot afford it.
The problem of Fulani herdsmen appears to be escalating in Benue and what are you doing about it?
It is a one notorious issue that has refused to go away. But we are fighting it. But I know that we need ranches to stop this menace across the country because globally that is what is being practised. Cattle are raised in America, Europe and Asia and even on African soil in Swaziland.
They all ranch their cattle. Why should we refuse to do same in Nigeria? I have been talking to my people to deal peacefully with the herdsmen because two wrongs do not make a right. If there is any breach they should report to law enforcement agencies. I know the way out of the problem is ranching. We have sent a bill to the state House of Assembly to provide a law for ranching but will not allow grazing in Benue State. There is no land for that.
The population is higher than the available space to allow for grazing. As for Benue State which is the food basket of the nation, we cannot afford the land for grazing but I can assure you that the state and the federal governments must put heads together to find a lasting solution to the problem.
Those Who Looted Benue State Are Still After Us - Gov Ortom
Reviewed by Link Naija