Benue State governor, Chief Samuel Ortom hosted a select journalists where he spoke on the challenges, gains, allegations and distractions in his first one year in office.Your administration is a year old. What have you done to address the problems that were ground before you took over?
First and foremost, I was sworn in on May 29th, 2015 and we are all aware of the state of the economy all over the country and I must say that Benue state is not an exception. The difference perhaps is the fact that I met an empty and deficit treasury. It has being quite tasking in trying to pay huge salary arrears of pensions, gratuity and contractual obligations. But in spite of all of this I must give glory to God for giving me the opportunity to serve and all that we have being able to do so far.
I am running a very prudent government in line with my campaign promises, and above all I am leading with the fear of God and we are transparent, fair, selfless , accountable and we are ensure justice and equity. Ours is not about making money for ourselves, rather we are prepared to add value to the people of the state.
The federal government has being supportive and we have achieved land miles in various sectors of the economy. We accessed 28billion naira federal government bailout; we have paid about four months arrears of workers both at the state and local government. We have removed ghost workers and saved some monies, our development partners have being brought back, we have secured a loan of N5.5billion naira to pay as counterpart funding to UBEC and our development partners. We have over N7.6 billion naira in our account today for primary schools. We are providing instructional material, water, renovating and building new structures for over 700 primary schools.
In the health sector we have opened the school of nursing and midwifery which was shut for over three years and we have applied to the council for accreditation and we are hopeful that we will soon begin admission of new students. Same for school of health technology, we have funded ensure restoration of accreditation of the Benue state University Teaching Hospital and have equally funded it as well as the college of health sciences where the pioneer students were there for over twelve years for a six year curse, today they have graduated. About 78 doctors have graduated since my assumption of office from that institution.
I intend to make the tertiary institutions strong, the secondary institutions stronger and the primary schools the strongest because that is the foundation. We have completely discouraged issues of miracle centres in our schools, because we do not want half baked students. We have also made mile stones in the infrastructure; the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria provided us a loan of 10 billion naira for that purpose and today about 13 abandoned roads by the past administration are being fixed. All the contractors are back on site in all the zones and we are equally providing new roads for example in Makurdi and Guma local government, which is the governor’s local government which had no access road.
We are equally liaising with the local governments in the areas of sports to engage our youths in various sports and we believe that great talents. We are doing quite a lot with our meagre resources.
There was a petition against you for diverting monies meant for the bailout through a certain member of the House of Representatives, how true is this allegation?
I read it, the truth is that no single kobo has being diverted to any body’s account talk less of Honourable Emmanuel Udende who is a member of the House of Representatives, from Sankara. It is a diversionary tactic of the previous administration. It is coming because they are to refund 107 billion naira which they were indicted due to their fraudulent activities during their reign. I challenge them to bring facts and documents. I did not authorize such things and I cannot do that anyway. Let them expose anywhere I diverted one naira, if there is any transparent government, it is my government. Ask my labour leaders in Benue state, whatever comes into our coffers be it internal generated revenue or allocation is discussed on a round table. More than 27 states of the federation cannot pay salaries and we are not an exception. At the state level we have paid up to January this year, at the local government level we have paid up to December last year. Now, due to the passion and importance we attach to education, we have paid Benue state University up to date.
We do not want over thirty thousand students on the streets if the university is shut down; we have paid pensioners up to March this year at the state level. Everybody knows what comes into our coffers every month, so where will you divert anything to. From August last the average allocation to the state has being N2billion, my salary, overhead and pension wages, which was inflated by the last administration, which was a bubby track for me is over N4billion. Pension alone is over N500million and the salary is over N300million. At the local government level is it about N3.7billion; meanwhile we are getting an average of N2billion monthly with a deficit of N2billion at the state and about N1.7bllion at the local government. So what has helped us is our transparency and openness which labour leaders are aware, we sit together monthly.
I asked Udende and yes he is owner of these accounts but no such monies passed through them. There is the issue of N900million which is an accumulation of other expenditures by local governments, when I came in, I made local governments independent of the state accounts I don’t go there, and in fact I have even closed some of the accounts they were using, such as project accounts which the former governor presided over. I have insisted on a single account with Fidelity bank at the local government. We are ready to respond to any call either EFCC or ICPC any anybody can write any petition it does not really matter. They should also be ready to prove any allegations.
Insecurity in the state is quite high, your special adviser on security was killed and many other forms of crime what are you doing about it?
That is worrisome and when we came in, we decided to take the bull by the horns, because security for lives and property remains very important, without which we cannot make any meaningful progress. As a governor and former minister I promised to diversify the economy if voted into office, not just looking at oil revenue, but think outside the box and this requires encouraging micro, small and medium scale enterprises, commercial and trading activities as well as investments, we need to industrialize the state and process the abundant raw materials that are being wasted in the state. This will add value and create wealth, but all these cannot be achieved if we continue to have insecurity in the state. That was why we provided amnesty for those who have arms and are using them for criminal activities, it was successful and over 600 arms and thousands of ammunition were recovered from these youths. Over 900 youths came to embrace the programme. There are some political undertone to the issue of insecurity, people are being instigated to go into kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and the rest, just to create tension in the state and all these are as result of our quest to recover stolen funds from past administrators. N107billion is not small money that money can turn Benue state into London of Africa, go and look at what we are doing with just N10 billion.
So all these are being instigated just to divert attention and cause confusion within the state, but I want to assure you that there is no way I can surrender the state to criminals. I will take them headlong. I have used the carrot, now is the stick. I will go after them and wherever they are hiding I will get them. With the new commissioner of Police who just took over, we are strategising, we are having a meeting on Monday about these menace. We are prepared for them, we cannot do anything without security, and we will go after anybody who is into any form of criminality in the state should know that his or her time is up. I am working with the traditional rulers, the people and by the grace of God there is no way I can allow criminals to takeover my state.
Why did you shift the local government elections?
I got a budget of N1.5billion, it was scaled down to N850million and I said if I cannot pay salaries and allowances why should I spend such monies on local government elections, because that amount can pay a whole lot of salaries and arrears.
What are you doing about the issues of Fulani herdsmen attacks in your state?
The Fulani herdsman is one notorious matter that has refused to go away. We need ranches to stop this menace all over the country, which is the practice globally. Cattles are ranched globally, why we should refuse to same. Yes the nomads need some time and I have being taking it easy with them because they need time. I have warned the people not to attack Fulani herdsmen or their cattle, because two wrongs cannot make a right. When there is trespass they should make a report to government agencies or law enforcement agencies. We have sent a bill to the state Assembly for ranching but we won’t allow grazing.