By Ugaba Emmanuel
The media is awash with criticisms over the increasing loans the Governor Ortom-led administration had sought in recent times. The antagonists would not have the patience to inquire to know why government should seek loans for any reasons; rather, they are quick to criticise the government and the governor for the loans.
It is important to inform and educate the ignorant public that not all loans are burdensome to the taker rather, some kinds of loans are reliefs to enhance the socio-economic development of the taker-nation or state as it is the case of Benue State.
Of a truth, when Governor Ortom took over the reins of government on May 29, 2015, he met a deficit treasury and in order to kickstart the process of governance, he needed money hence the reason for the first loan of N10billion. The money got from the loan was used to purchase vehicles for the State Executive members, local government caretaker committee Chairmen and other essentials required for the smooth take off of the administration.
The second batch of loan, which was a nationwide affair, is the N28billion bailout required to clear the backlog of outstanding salary arrears owed the state and local government workers by the immediate past administration. The loan which attracted near zero interest and payable over 20 years was not granted to Benue State alone. The money was directed and utilized for the purpose it was obtained.
Another loan of N5.5billion was for the purpose of paying counterpart funding for the development of some critical infrastructure whereby the donor agencies have the responsibility to supervise the project from the award of the contract to completion of the project.
Recall that the previous or the immediate past administration had the opportunity to enjoy funds from development Agencies if they paid the counterpart funding, but they refused for the singular reason that the donor Agencies would not allow the agents of government to control and manipulate the award and supervision of the contracts.
Secondly, donor Agencies are not interested in shady dealings nor are they interested in projects that do not have direct impacts on the socio-economic lives of the people.
Having said that, recall media propaganda that Governor Ortom had collected over N58billion loans and had diverted the money to his personal pockets instead of what the loans were sought for. The biggest tragedy that can befall a man in this 21st Century is the tragedy of ignorance. Every loan sought requires due process to be followed. No bank can give out loan to any individual or organization without adhering to due process and these processes usually take time because of the legal implications inherent and other conditionality needing to be fulfilled.
The first of the loans, aside the bailout, that has come to the coffers of government is the N10billion that was credited to the bank account of government last week. As it is customary with Governor Ortom, in the spirit of honesty, sincerity, transparency and accountability, he announced to the general public, even on Sunday, that the government has now received the loan meant for the development of some critical infrastructure in the state.
At the presentation of a proposed Media policy at the government Command Centre on March 1, the governor hinted that he has already called the contractors to return to sites, adding that the projects involved were inherited from the past administration but, since government is a continuity, he has no plans to embark on new ones until the completion of the ongoing projects.
In the same vein, sum of N3.5billion has been released for the rehabilitation of infrastructures in the primary schools across the states. This is sequel to the payment of counterpart funding embarked upon by Governor Ortom led administration.
This administration is barely nine months old, considering the enormity of challenges on ground, any right thinking person should appreciate the efforts of the governor and his team.
The state was infested with thugs, armed banditry, cultists and all manners of social vices until the Governor came up with the idea of Amnesty programme which has now yielded positive results. Today, the rate of kidnapping, robbery and cult related activities have been brought to the minimum, if not completely eradicated.
The Justice Kpojime Judicial Commission of Inquiry, over which government White Paper was released few days ago, was set up for the sole purpose of knowing how the Benue people’s commonwealth was utilized but, not to witchhunt anybody. Ironically, some people saw it as a grand design to probe the administration of former Governor Gabriel Suswam. The truth is that the former governor and any other persons involved were at liberty to make legal representation so as to be well defended where necessary, failure on the part of anybody to appear before the commission should not be blamed on the governor.
The over N100billion looted by those indicted by the commission’s report, if the money was used for the development of the state, Benue would have not remained where it is today, workers salaries would not have been owed and there would have been no need for the loans, the present government of Governor Ortom, is being criticized of taking.
There has never been any government in Benue state that is people-oriented, honest and transparent as the present government of Governor Ortom. To prove this point, before Governor Ortom set up the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Judicial Commission of Inquiry, he sought the approval to do so from the stakeholders of the state including PDP members.
This is a Governor that runs inclusive government whereby labour leaders are being involved in major decision making process including the disclosure of whatever funds that accrues to the government publically.
It is only in this present government that the governor involves Special Advisers and other Aids in the state Executive meetings simply because he is running a government of inclusiveness. Otherwise, constitutionally, State executive council meetings are the exclusive preserves of the commissioners, SSG and few key officers in attendance when called upon but not as members.
Let the critics know now that being a Christian does not mean that the Governor is blind to his legal rights. The global fall in crude oil prices which has affected the inflow of funds to the Federation Account also drastically reduced the inflow of monthly allocations to the state, consequently Benue State cannot afford to regularly pay the over N4.5billion monthly wage bill. It is in this wise that, following the agreement reached between the government and labor leaders that salaries are arranged to be paid every other month by which time allocations for two months are cumulated to pay one month.
In the light of the above, it is important for the citizens of the state to be abreast with the true state of affairs of government and not to be misled by the detractors of Governor Ortom-led administration.
Similarly, like the scripture puts it, “give no room to Satan,” let the members of the state Exco, Special Advisers, Chairmen of Boards, Governor’s Aides involved in all strata of governance be alive to their responsibilities so that critics will not be able to link corrupt or sharp practices to the government consequent upon their inaction either by acts of omission or commission.
*Ugaba is a Special Assistant to Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Benue State; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org