‘POST-ELECTION LITIGATIONS HAMPER BENUE DEVELOPMENT’
Hon. Odeh Ageh, former Chairman, Obi LGA, Benue State, is the present state Commissioner For Information & Orientation. By virtue of his job, he is the image-maker of the Governor Samuel Ortom-led administration of the state. In this interview with JAMES IBECHI, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR of jamesibechi.wordpress.com (an online news and commentaries portal), Ageh speaks on salient issues in the state and about the administration in which he is a major player.
How has it being working in the new administration of Governor Samuel Ortom?
It has been challenging but interesting and very fulfilling. His Excellency Governor Samuel Ortom took his time to pray to God , to put his exco on board. And he also prayed to God before assigning portfolios. I believe that in whichever portfolio one finds himself is where God wants him or her to serve his state. I look at the Ministry of Information and Orientation as very challenging. Being the image maker of the government, the work here is enormous particularly in the area of radio, television and in the publication of The Voice newspaper, among others. But we are trying to tackle all the challenges. So far, I find the work interesting but challenging.
What will you say was the state of Benue before the emergence of Samuel Ortom as the Governor?
Benue was comatose. The state was in disarray. It was lugubrious, as civil servants were not paid, and social systems and infrastructures collapsed. Nearly everything became moribund. And there was a state of helplessness. People looked into distant future without a ray of hope. No hope. It was at that level that Governor Samuel Ortom came into the state to salvage it and to do his best to reposition the state.
Do you think the governor’s team as presently constituted is capable of taking the state to the next level?
Yes, I am quite confident and comfortable that the governor’s team as presently constituted is capable of taking the state to the next level and move it in the right direction to its ‘Promised Land’. As I have already said, the Governor prayed before he assembled his wisemen because he is a God-fearing man. He is also looking for divine direction. And after assembling the cabinet, he also prayed on the assignment of portfolios. So, as the team is now, we are quite confident and capable of supportingHis Excellency, to move the state to a greater height.
What would you say are contained in the Ortom’s blueprint for the industrial development of Benue?
The Governor’s development blueprint is code-named “OUR COLLECTIVE VISION FOR A NEW BENUE”. This is anchored on five core areas:
– Development of critical infrastructure
– Agricultural driven Industrialization
– Still-based education and health.
– Women gender and youth
– Good governance and revenue security
Industrialization is one major aspect of the governor’s blueprint. And what it means is that, the governor intends to work on the enormous resources of the state, its potentials, to transform them, process our primary produce, add value so that we can have finished products. This is because, once you export your primary products you are exporting your labour. So the centerpiece of it is to galvanize and make sure that all our primary produce, be it grains, tubers, citrus or fruits, would be processed to finished products, so we can have value for our money, the multiplier effects, on the income generation, for employment of our youths.
Being an agrarian state, what are the strategies being brought on board for the development of the agriculture in the state?
Benue is an agrarian state. Governor Ortom has left no one in doubt as to what he wants to do. He is tackling the issue from both the production side, the processing, or adding of value to the distribution. In the area of production, you can see that we have launched the distribution of fertilizer to farmers at a highly subsidized rate. After this, the main challenge for the farmers is market. Apart from helping to boost production by way of giving fertilizer and modern inputs, it is also going to set the ball rolling in the area of marketing of these farm produce so that people will get value for their farming and also to add value by processing the produce to the final market. And when that happens, you discover that it is going to be complete value chain: from production, processing to marketing. So the governor is going to involve himself in all this value chain so that at the end of the day, we would have value for our agricultural efforts. And the pure subsistent level in existence now would be moved to a mechanized one gradually.
Quite a large number of the state’s indigenes are unemployed. What is the government doing to redress this situation?
Government worldwide cannot employ everybody. That is why the issue of broadening the economic base, particularly the agric-driven economy, industrialization has come into play, because agriculture has the capacity to employ a lot of labour. Apart from that, the situation now in the civil service, we do not know the correct staff strength of the government. The Govenor has brought in consultants to do a thorough staff verification – biometric data , etc – to ascertain the real staff strength of the state. When that is done, definitely, a lot of vacancies will be declared because, what is available, I do not think it is true. There are many ghost workers. And when the vacancies are declared, every Benue indigene would have the opportunity to apply; they will be interviewed and be employed appropriately, unlike what happened in the last regime whereby unless you know the governor or have access to him to approve the list for you in writing there was no employment for you. There was no formal due process of employment in the state. For the past eight years of Suswam administration. What obtained was: when you know the governor he would write the list and approve and send to civil service or local government service commission. So, when a thorough investigation is carried out and a clear situation is known, vacancies will be declared openly. Due process will be followed and all the employable people will be employed whether you know the governor or have a godfather or not, it is immaterial. Once you are an indigene of Benue State and you fulfill all the requirements you will be employed.
And from the private sector perspective, apart from the agricultural angle, you can see that many investors are coming in. This government is encouraging Private Public Partnership (PPP) arrangement whereby the investors are bringing their money. When they invest they will also employ a lot of labour. When that is done, gradually employment situation will improve.
The Governor in his maiden speech pointed out that government is a continuity. Based on that, Governor Ortom has is continuing with only projects started by the immediate past administration which are of benefits to the people of the state, as can be seen in the completion of Otobi and Katsina Ala Water Works, payment of N300million for House of Assembly Complex and award of contracts for the construction of Gbajimba road to the tune of N500million, among others. Only projects deemed beneficial to the people of will be continued with.
The opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has of recent been feeding the people with some allegations of corruption against the Ortom administration. How would you respond to these allegations?
The allegations of corruption against Ortom are baseless. You discover that Ortom administration is very open. The Governor has said it times without number that he is very open to constructive criticism. It’s just that PDP, they are not schooled, they are just not tutored in opposition politics. So, they are just babbling. They have really not said anything constructive because what they have been touting as corruption is the N28billion bailout, which the government is yet to access. The money has not even come in yet. In the same vein, the N5.5billion Counterpart Funding has not even being accessed. These facilities are for particular purposes. It is when they are accessed and not used for the purposes for which they are obtained that they can question. The allegations are baseless and even if you look at the whole thing it is just empty talk.
But critics of the administration are saying that the vehicles purchased for LG chairmen, commissioners and governor’s aides among others are pricey to the detriment of the payment of arrears of workers’ salaries which should be the priority of any government, and smacked of corrupt practice…
Purchase of SUV cars does not amount to corruption because the vehicles were provided for in the supplementary budget. Moreover, the law provides that the officials should be provided with workable vehicles to enhance their performances. Moreso, the vehicles provided are monetized, and are being paid for by the officials using them. The same thing happened in the previous administration, reason why they left with their vehicles. His Excellency has not abandoned his responsibilities; hence he has paid salaries up to date. The issue of arrears, they were inherited from the previous administration and that is where where the issue of N28 billion bail out fund comes in and when accessed, they will be fully taken care of. he governor has not abandoned the workers’ welfare for the luxury of the executive. As for the vehicles being over priced, one should know that they are different makes of the vehicles: the Japanese’, the Dubai, etc makes. The price variations can be verified at the open market.
What is your reaction on the victory of Governor Ortom at the Elections Petitions Tribunal recently?
First of all, I thank God Almighty who has seen the end from the beginning, that gave us the victory and also to congratulate his Excellency Governor Samuel Ortom for the victory at the poll openly given by Benue people and confirmed by the tribunal. I also wish to state categorically that it is a victory for democracy and a victory for change for the good of the people. Prior to this victory, PDP has been saying all sorts of things that the mandate is a stolen one, without regard to an issue pending in the court. Now, with the verdict of the tribunal, I am sure they will now eat their words. I did not expect people like the former minister of interior Comrade Abbah Moro, the state PDP Chairman, Agbo Emmanuel, to be making insinuations or statements on an issue pending in a competent court of law. With the outcome of the case now, I do not know how they will feel. But, having said that they should weigh their utterances particularly on issues that are pending in court, so that they should not be coming to give verdict on behalf of the court. They should always be sure that the court has the final say.
Right from 1979, when Governor Aper Aku of Blessed memory was elected, there had been petitions. That of George Akume too, there were also petitions here and there. During Governor Gabriel Suswam’s election and re-election there were petitions, and the present one. My belief is that, we have very many highly placed Benue sons and daughters who can organize themselves. Even if you cannot say one person is the overall leader, they can come in a kind of a collegiate leadership, with zone A,B,C coming together, both political class, private sector groups and traditional rulers can come together. After elections are conducted and they know that issues involved are not weighty, they can wade into the whole thing and alternative way of solving these problems instead of going to court. For instance, the petition against His Excellency now, if you look at the ground of the case, one is on rigging which was dropped, and the second one of malpractice was dropped. Then we are left with the issue of the APC candidature, which was a pre-election matter of another party. That ground alone you know is technical. The Benue people would have come in and say: ‘ok, we are the people of Benue State, it is only one person that can be governor at a time. Please, let’s resolve the issue amicably, there is no need to go to court.’ If there issues were amicably resolved, they are brothers, they can still talk to each other. But when once the issues are resolved at the tribunal, the person may forgive, but may not forget it. And it is on record permanently for life that, this is what happened. It is surely not a good way of resolving an issue.
The leadership could come together and resolve the issues without going to tribunal. If you look at the financial involvement, particularly from 2007 to date, it is enormous. The money spent, if it is given to the development of Benue, it will go a long way to putting the state in a better position.
Lawyers are very good. They will tell you even before you have gone to court that you have won the case, and if you don’t they will even encourage you to go to appeal court, not knowing that they are sinking you deeper into trouble waters.
So, in my opinion, I will advise strongly that, though Terhemben Tarzor is entitled to his action, yet my advice to him is, he should team up with his brother, Governor Samuel Ortom, to develop the state instead of distracting him further by going on with the litigation, into appeal as far as at the end of the day the money spent on lawyers are not going to go into their pockets or the development of the state.
So, there should be alternative dispute resolution emanating from elections in Benue state instead of us going to tribunal to spend our monies.
Do you have any words for the Benue people?
I want to thank the Benue people who have freely and willingly given Samuel Ortom the mandate to govern them. And I also want to let them know that His Excellency met a deficit treasury. A deficit treasury is more dangerous than an empty one. It means you are coming from a dungeon, a pit. You will have to get to the surface before you will be able to move ahead. And Ortom is the first governor of the state to operate from that level. No other governor operated from that level, particularly when it has to do with the salaries of workers or civil servants in the state. They should be patient with him. He’s taking steps with the fear of God to address all these issues. Sooner than later, with the bailout, all the issues of the salary arrears will be a thing of the past. And going forward, whatever comes he is going to utilize it judiciously with the fear of God for the benefit of Benue people at the end of the day, the people will sing a new song of victory and positive change.