By James Ibechi
The story of Benue State under Governor Samuel Ortom is one that has two different sides. To some, the Food Basket of the Nation offers hope and bright future, given the performance of the governor over the last 365 days.
To others, it is a far cry from the dream of its forbears, notable among them, late Aper Aku. But all are agreed that the state, apart from being in a safer and better hand, is a work in progress under the All Progressives Congress (APC), and that there is hope and promise.
Fourteen leaders had at various times managed the affairs of the state since its creation in February 1976. Of the lot, however, only five were civilian governors while the rest were military administrators.
The civilian governors were, the late Aku, first civilian Governor; Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu, George Akume, Gabriel Suswam and the present Governor Samuel Ortom that has clocked just a year today.
Though there had been military administrators that nursed the state at creation, the real agenda at giving it a form commenced with the late Aper Aku.
Aku laid the foundation of what can today be called modern Benue. He had the foresight , the drive and commitment in building the state. That was truly the man that came, saw and conquered.
Other administrations after him, with the exception of that of late Adasu, had been struggling in various degrees to catch up with his agenda for the state.
It was in recognition of the outstanding performance of Aku that excited the present Governor Ortom so much that he declared in the build up to the 2015 election that he would orient his leadership style after the late first civilian governor of the state.
That also includes, for Ortom, making Aku his role model.
Governor Ortom so chose not to toe the line of Gabriel Suswam his predecessor, but of Aku, because the perception of the public was, and one-year after Ortom mounted the saddle, is still that, Gabriel Suswam is a dark horse.
Those who say that the state has not lived up to the dream of its forbears and are worried with the Ortom’s one-year-old administration hinge their grouse particularly on the inability of the governor to pay salaries up to date.
However, the general agreement in public circles is that Governor Ortom, by assessment, would have been rated excellent going by his performance especially in security, education, infrastructure, health, agriculture, Cost saving, judiciary, accountability/transparency, internal revenue, information, etc. But for his flip-side, which has remained the unpaid workers’ salaries.
However, during a press conference to mark his one-year in office recently, Governor Ortom reiterated that payment of salaries remained his priority.
Indeed, the governor said he appreciates the challenge and the need to pay workers their wage. He demonstrated this when he set out with borrowings to pay arrears of salaries of both local and state government workers, which were left unpaid by the administration of Suswam that is regarded as the darkest in the state’s history. The highest of the borrowings was the N28billion called ‘bailout’ funds obtained from the Central Bank.
The rejuvenation of the state and local government workforce from low morale, general apathy and disenchantment on account of salaries owed them by the previous administration, in order to brace the workers up for the change regime was uppermost in the governor’s mind in seeking and collecting loans. The bailout was a huge success. But the challenge of unpaid salaries has returned to stare the state in the face. About five months salaries are unpaid. Yet Federal Allocation to the state is in a steady decline.
The oil price has continued to fall and nothing to write home about is coming from oil which is the economic mainstay of the nation at this time.
To prove his commitment to the welfare of the workers, the governor has upped the ante of tax collection through which revenue could be boosted to shore up funds needed to be able to pay salaries. Besides that, he has restored confidence and investors and development partners alike are returning, after leaving because of corruption in the last administration.
If unpaid salary is the major area where the people seem not satisfied with Governor Ortom in his first year, then the governor had said that he would have loved to dip his hands into the assets of the state to ensure salaries are paid when IGR and Federal Allocation are no longer helping in this regard.
But when he turned to the state’s shares he discovered that, and going by Justice Kpojime Commission of Inquiry’s findings, the ‘dark horse’ had sold everything and put the proceeds in private accounts.
Same story goes for all other assets that can qualify as the patrimony of the people of Benue State.
According to the probe panel report, the ex-Governor, Suswam and 52 other minions had looted the state ofN107billion.
The governor said the state needs the money back not only to clear backlog of salaries arrears, but to also advance the development of the state.
To be contined….