By James Ibechi
My attention has been drawn to an article titled “Who Will Save Benue State?” written by one George Ocheja (who apparently wrote for a paymaster), which appeared on page 49 of ThisDay of Saturday, September 12, 2015.
To begin with, let me say that it is fair and proper for people to air their views in the media, whatever those views may be and however disagreeable and absurd they may appear, because that is the essence of freedom of speech.
However, the basic tenets of journalism demand that such views must be based on fact and not fiction. The guiding maxim is that “opinion is cheap but facts are sacred’’. Mr Ocheja is, therefore, entitled to air his views about Dr. Samuel Ortom’s three-month-old administration.
However, what is unacceptable is when he fabricates lies and indulges in sheer falsehood in an attempt to deceive the public and malign the character and integrity of the Governor.
Graphic examples of these were contained in his article, which I shall shed light on, point by point, just to put the record straight.
Mr. Ocheja infers in his article that Governor Ortom is not prepared for leadership. Either so or that His Excellency does not have a large heart for leadership. But he is no truer.
The public is in the know that in the days of the Peoples Democratic Party reign, the state witnessed, perhaps for the first time, the foray of a common man, an aspirant with a humble background, who was not born with silver-spoon, into the race for the governorship of the state.
That man is Ortom. Judging him from whatever perspective you choose, whether from his qualification and experience, private or public sector track records, his rise from being a local government chairman to serving the nation in various capacities, before consciously resigning as a minister to contest in the election that brought him to the present position of his, driven by the thirst to take Benue out of the woods, you know that the governor was, and is, fully prepared for leadership of the state.
So, to insinuate that Ortom is an opportunist who is not prepared or well armed for leadership of the state, is to say the least, wrong. Ortom is well and fully prepared for leadership.
Saying that the governor had nothing to celebrate in his 100 days in office when his counterparts in other states were celebrating landmark achievements, the writer seems grossly oblivious of the fact that the Benue state governor has gone far ahead many of his colleagues in other states to forming his exco and he should know that governance has since been well on course to fixing the food basket state, whereas up till now, some of his referenced counterparts are still groping in the dark, as to what to do, amid the cash crunch that buffets not just Benue but many states in the federation.
So, contrary to Mr. Ocheja’s ignorance, within the 100 days into Governor Ortom’s four-year-tenure, the governor has a lot to celebrate. On the security of life and property which is one of the cardinal thrusts of Ortom’s administration, the Amnesty declared has since been yielding fruits. In the education sector, Benue State University has reopened after successfully negotiating with the striking lecturers of the institution and its College of Health Sciences has been accredited. School of Nursing is under massive renovation. Award of contracts for the construction of Gbajimba Road, Otobi and Katsina-Ala waterworks have been done, among numerous other achievements of the governor to count, all just in three months.
Upbraiding Governor Ortom for making Chief Mike Iordiye head of the Transition Committee, a man who served as Head of Service in the best part of Suswam eight-year-tenure, the writer also faulted the metamorphosis of the Iordiye-led transition committee into a probe panel as well as the setting up of two panels in a day. But I see nothing wrong in that because, after the submission of the transition committee report, the report, it was, which provided framework and the platform for probe of Suswam administration, which necessitated the constitution of the two probe panels. The mere fact that Iordiye served in Suswam administration did not disqualify him. If anything, that even gave him the benefit of hindsight that provided insight and inroad into Suswam’s messy administration.
By the way, the transition committee was jointly set up by the outgone and the incoming administration. Why did the outgoing members of the committee run away and did not corporate? Mr. Ocheja surely failed to tell us. There is nothing wrong about the constitution of the two probe panels.
The writer in his mistaken belief assumes because Suswam helped Ortom into national limelight and so the former does not deserve what he gets from the latter. Mr. Ocheja ought to have known that in a political party setup, you work for someone and when the person wins you stand to enjoy the dividends of the work.
Ortom worked for Suswam to be governor, so the there is nothing wrong, if, as the writer alleged, Suswam helped Ortom into national limelight. Yet, the truth is, when Ortom became the national auditor of the PDP, if he was not competent he would not have been elected by the party. The position was elective. Even so, encouraging Ortom to serve in a position does not mean Suswam gave him the position.
Everybody knew Suswam openly worked against Ortom’s governorship aspiration in PDP and never paid any bill for him, as the writer has alleged. So, the allegation by Mr. Ocheja that Suswam paid Ortom’s bills was baseless and unfounded.
The writer should also be made to know the truth that, if Governor Ortom were in PDP, he would still do what he he is doing now because his allegiance is to God, which was the fear that made Suswam to work against him in PDP, being in the illusion that without the party ticket Ortom could not be governor.
Mr. Ocheja berated Ortom over move to renovate Governor’s Lodge, a structure which according to him was recently done by former Governor Suswam administration and was never yet due for renovation. The writer said he had not visited the place. That is the reason he has exuded ignorance and prejudice in his critique . He will do well to visit the site, as only then will he discover the extent of vandalization done to the place by the immediate past administration of Suswam. The Governor’s Lodge was looted down to spoon and many destructions done. Even at that, Ortom has not touched anything there yet. It is only the vandalization that he is seeing.
On the writer’s optimism that Election Petitions Tribunal will soon remove Ortom as governor, needs he be educated that the tribunal is a legally constituted body and without prejudice, the Ortom’s arm chair critic is not God to know the outcome of the case? If anything, after the closure of the written addresses by the counsel to both sides, people have already known in whose favour the pendulum will swing, contrary to the writer’s wishes.
On the N10 billion loan taken, the money was used to pay two months salaries and overheads, totaling 7.4billion. The balance went into the administrative take-off, as Ortom met deficit treasury and not an empty one. Ortom did not add any three months salaries as alleged.
And on the N5.5billion loan obtained for counterpart project funding for which Mr. Ocheja has berated the Ortom’s administration, I see nothing wrong in an investment which will later attract or yield about N7.4billion bringing a total to N13 billion that will be available for development of schools and others, with development partners.
The writer displayed his ignorance further when he condemned the government’s purchase of operational vehicles for the three arms of government’s use. What the government spent on the vehicles is about N1.3billion which is within the budgetary provision of N1.5billion.
Saying that the vehicles were pricey, what Ocheja and many others like him were bereft of, is the knowledge that the type of vehicle that the government purchased are of two models: the Japanese and the Dubai models. While Japanese’s are of higher and the best quality there are those of Dubai which are the inferior. The government went for the best, hence the price at which they were bought.
I challenge the writer to tell us what his ‘masters’ did with the bond collected; talking about the N13billion, N75billion and what has happened to the Benue Shares sold for N95billion? What did the writer’s ‘master’ do with the money, when over five months salary arrears of workers could not be paid as the time of handover to the government?
Also, on the current N28billion bailout, I feel compelled to let the writer know that Benue is not the only state enjoying the bailout. About 28 states of the federation are equally in dire straits and need the bailout. This is to enable the government to clear arrears of salaries owe to both local and state government workers, a problem bequeathed by the administration of the writer’s master in the first place. The loan which has even been converted into bond is yet to be accessed. So where lay the constructive basis for blasting the Ortom administration? The writer must be asked, or he is a suspect.
As it could be gleaned from the article, the writer really wants the Ortom-led government to be grounded within the first 100 days, if not, what would happen if the workers salaries are not paid until now, can only be imagined.
He, the writer, has forgotten that the state’s monthly inflow is been seriously eroded by the unproductive jumbo loan collected by his paymaster, Suswam’s administration, as the state’s allocations from the Federation Account are been deducted to service the jumbo debt.
The allegation of Ortom spending state funds for tribunal is simply the figment of imagination of the writer only. He should know that Ortom is too God-fearing to take billions of state funds for tribunal. Or otherwise, the writer should show any scintilla of proof of his allegation. The reading audience has become more sophisticated than the writer thinks they are gullible. Unfortunately, he does not seem to know this.
The writer rumored that Ortom is taking or has already taken a Bank of Industry’s N10billion loan, which is false. Or you would ask: is taking of bank loan a secret deal?
The problem of the likes of Ocheja is that their cynicism is so great about some of the past governors that even when new ones are expressing outrage about something that is wrong in the strongest possible terms, they tend to view with deep suspicion the new government’s move to tackle the wrong of the past system. Ocheje’s hatchet article against Ortom surely busts that particular mould.
Even though Ortom’s administration is open to constructive criticism, I think the likes of Ocheja, whether real or imaginary name are paid agents who are Iiving in the illusion of the past
But to answer the writer’s question, I believe just as many Benue people who gave Ortom the mandate do, that Governor Ortom will save the state; and of course, he has already started on the right path.
*James Ibechi is a commentator on public affairs and wrote in from Lagos.