•Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, Governor of Benue State
By Wandoo Sombo
Benue State, located in the North Central part of Nigeria, is reputed to be the food basket of the federation.
The state produces enough food stuff that can not only feed its estimated states 4,253,641 population, according to 2006 census figures but also `export’ to different parts of the country.
The state was created in 1976 among the seven states created at that time. The state derives its name from the Benue River which is the second largest river in Nigeria after the River Niger.
However, in recent years, this agri hub of the nation has been literarily bleeding. Herders and farmers clashes have led to the death of thousands of people, forcing many farmers to abandon their farms.
On the political front, observers say the state had also ‘bled’ from what they described as maladministration, leading to decay infrastructure, non-payment of salaries and pensions of government workers and retirees as at when due.
This has led many to cynically term Benue as ‘the broken state.’’ The challenges in Benue, home to TVs, Idomas, Igedes, Orring, Etulos, Igbos and Jukuns, among others, seem intractable.
However, “Broken things can be fixed and healed. Nothing is too difficult or too dirty to clean”, says American writer, Marika McCoola, New York Times bestselling author of Baba Yaga’s Assistant.
This is the mantra on which Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, the second cleric to be elected as Governor of Benue State stands to ensure that Benue will truly live up to its name as the food basket of the nation.’’
“We came in so that we will fix the broken Benue”, Alia said when he played host to the members of the Conference of Benue Journalists (CBJ) recently.
Alia, elected on the platform of All Progressives Congress succeeded Mr Samuel Ortom of the Peoples Democratic Party.
The group was in the state to assess the level of progress made in the last five months by the government in delivering on critical projects that have direct impact on the lives of the people.
The group’s President, Emmanuel Anule, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that, as sons and daughters of Benue in the media, it was only apt to visit their home for first-hand information.
“You need to see something before you can accept that it really exists; also we needed to have an interface with the new leadership under governor Alia to ensure that Benue is in the media for the right reason,’’ Anule said.
It is widely believed that given the poor leadership, which the state had experienced in several years past, Alia on May 29, inherited a state where lives had become difficult, frustrating, and precarious.
Some Benue citizens in the diaspora believe it is a matter of cleaning the Augean stable.
Speaking at a dinner for the group, the governor said that his young government was struggling to settle several debts owed contractors, unpaid salaries and pension arrears, running into billions of naira.
The media delegation, before meeting members of the State Executive Council, visited sites of some ongoing and completed projects in Makurdi metropolis.
Some of the projects visited by CBJ members are the 16 ongoing township roads construction in Makurdi.
On this, Alia said, “work is speedily ongoing on 16 township roads in the state capital and streets in Gboko and other towns like Otukpo and Katsina-Ala will follow very soon.”
All the projects of the government are conceptualised within its development programme, anchored on a seven-point agenda.
This includes security, acceleration of agriculture and rural development, promotion of commerce and industry, human capital and social development and upgrading of infrastructure and environment.
Also in the agenda is advancement of information and communication technology, among others.
“Our hands and legs have been tied because the government has been garnisheed on the Taraku Mills, because over time, the labourers there were never paid, it’s up to two three regimes past.
“ So they took those regimes to court. Now, I have to settle over N2 billion.
“Any major company you know in the state has legal ropes tied on their heads, which is quite sad enough. As I speak, we are trying to settle them,” Alia said.
The governor says without disrupting the existing structures the government is genuinely committed to the transformation of Benue, harnessing its untapped natural resources and vibrant youthful population and talents.
“There’s relative peace now in Benue for investors to come. I am focused in attracting new investments and resuscitating moribund companies,” Alia said.
The governor, however, says this too would not be possible in the absence of peace which would also ensure that all Internally Displaced Persons in the state safely returned home.
The Benue State Government recently approved a contract for the connection of regular power supply at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital.
The aim is to ensure optimal health care delivery system in the state and similarly, the Muhammadu Buhari, Mother and Child Hospital has been opened and is now operational after several years of being abandoned.
In line with the sixth agenda of the administration’s development blue print of enhancing human capital development, no fewer than 10,000 youths are currently undergoing ICT-related training, powered by Google, under the sponsorship of the government.
CBJ also visited the ICT centre at the Benue State University, where they saw no fewer than 320 units of computer systems installed to support computer-based operations in the state.
One other critical sector that has received attention from the government in the last five months as observed by the CBJ was transportation.
A total of 100 new buses have been procured by the government for the state-owned transport company, Benue Links, to ease the transportation across the 23 local government areas in the state.
The Commissioner for Power and Transportation, Mr Omale Omale, says the decision became necessary following the removal of subsidy on petrol and the biting effects of cost of living in the country.
Mrs Mary Ojeka, a civil servant and Makurdi resident, told members of CBJ that the government has ensured the prompt payment of salaries and gratuities to workers.
The development she says was a departure from the past eight years when workers were owed salaries for several months.
Mama Ashiver Angwe, a resident of High Level area of Makurdi, said until the current administration started work on the Iorkyaa Ako Street extension, she never believed that there could be such a road in that area.
She said that prior to the assumption of office of the current administration, the state transport company; Benue Links never plied some routes in the state.
Angwe said she was happy that she could now join people of other Local Government Areas to travel by Benue Links to her local government.
Another resident, Mr Francis Eje, said the security situation in the state is gradually improving because unlike before, people can now stay away from home beyond 8pm.
“It was really scary, especially for we that live in quiet areas the place is already quiet on its own, so if you are out after 8pm, you will realise that you are the only one on the road.
“Before if you see or hear the sound of a motorcycle or car or even another person approaching from a distance, you begin to say your last prayers for fear that you will be killed or robbed’’, she said.
Eje, however, said that even though there is still fear, within the last five months people are now bolder and a bit more confident to stay out at night.
He urged the current administration to be courageous and not to tow the path of the past administrations in the state which did not provide desired level of dividends of democracy to the citizens.
“With what we are seeing the governor doing in just six months in charge of the state, I think there is hope that Benue will rise again,“ he said.
Mr David Gesa, a retiree, was in agreement that the security situation in the state had improved tremendously under the present administration in Benue.
He said the incessant attacks on farmers by herders had reduced since the inception of Alia administration and urged the government to sustain the tempo.
Analysts say considering the Alia administration is barley six months observers say it had demonstrated some level of desire to fix ‘broken’ Benue.
His ability to unite the people of the state and all stakeholders will determine how far he will go. For now, he seems to be on course. (NANFeatures)