<<< Compiled by Terver Akase >>>
On Monday, November 30, members of the business community in Benue State under the aegis of Benue Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, (BECCIMA), converged on Makurdi, the state capital. The event was a dinner for BECCIMA, hosted by the State Governor Samuel Ortom. It was the first time in many years that the business community would be hosted by a Governor of the state. Another first was that the meeting was devoid of any political undercurrents.
Members of BECCIMA therefore took advantage of the enabling platform to make frank contributions to the development of the state. They commended Governor Ortom for taking proactive measures in addressing the challenges facing the people since he assumed office.
Below are excerpts from the speech made at the dinner by the President of BECCIMA, Arch. Asema Achado
“The coming in of Your Excellency as Governor of Benue State has generated a heightened mood of renewed optimism in the State. This surge of optimism and confidence is hinged on the reputation and antecedents of your Excellency for your well known spirit of enterprise, ability to rise to the top against all odds, passion for excellence, and deep compassion for mankind, coupled with your manifest sincerity of purpose and fear of God. These personal attributes have become both capital and asset to Benue State, enkindling a sudden verve of interest by several business organisations and development partners for engagement with the state.
Your Excellency, we are aware of the terrible state of economic wreckage into which the state was plunged when you took over. This situation has been made more difficult by the declining state of the nation’s foreign earnings. This calls for concerted efforts from all stakeholders to rally our creative and hard work to take the state out of the present depressed condition to a glorious and prosperous future. Despite the gloomy state of affairs, we have no doubt that the enormous goodwill and collective optimism generated by your emergence as Governor will be converted into huge enterprise capital. We acknowledge with gratitude and delight the commitment of your administration to put the private sector forward in driving the economy and business of the state.”
The BECCIMA President went ahead to suggest areas which the Ortom administration could focus on to make the state an economic hub. These included:
– Benue Investment and Industrial Development Fund
– Agriculture Commodities Market
– Agriculture Land Clearing Scheme
– Public Private Partnership
Governor Samuel Ortom responded to the group’s presentation, thanking them for recognising his efforts in taking Benue to the next level of development. He spoke extempore (without a written speech).
‘’Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all. Let me start by appreciating the Almighty God for the opportunity given to us to be here. I want to say that am glad that Benue State has woken up to the call of economic development by this meeting.
All over the world, economies of various countries whether in America, Europe or in Asia and where people are making it today, the private sector is the force driving the economy, and Nigeria cannot be an exception. Government provides policy, regulates and monitors to ensure that compliance is upheld and so there is no reason for us in Benue state to be different from what the world is doing, after all, the world today as we see it is a global village. We are in one place so I want to appreciate God for this new leadership and the renewed energy to bring economic development to our dear state.
I am glad and fulfilled and I know that God is with me that am on the right path of governance. I say this because you see; the bible says “my people perish because of lack of vision”. For me I saw it even before I became governor. For those of you who listened to me when I was campaigning, I said that government does not have the capacity to provide the needed jobs, to create the needed wealth and to create the needed opportunities that our economy needs. I had said that by the grace of God when elected governor, I will provide the enabling environment and the conducive atmosphere for the private sector to thrive. (Applause….)
I have travelled round the world and have seen what is obtained in other countries and I knew that what we are passing through today will come, because then as a Minister of Industry Trade and Investment, I knew that the potentials we have in the oil market were going to drain someday. Today with the resurfacing of conflicts, it will be worse and we all know that once Iran gets its oil into the international market, you can imagine what the Nigerian crude will be selling. So I saw it and I said given the opportunity, I will provide the enabling environment for industries to thrive in Benue State despite the challenges we have in infrastructure.
What has the Governor found to be Benue’s challenge?
“Areas where we have comparative and competitive advantages are in agriculture, solid minerals, culture and tourism. But in agriculture where majority of our people derive their economic strength, I know that an average farmer in Benue State is not making money on top of his labour and as a farmer, even this evening I just came from my farm, so I appreciate what the people go through.
Most of the times, the selling price is lower than the cost price of what the farmers put in to produce the yields. And so it is a big challenge. How many people will be happy to go to bank or borrow money from somewhere or to put their investment in farm work and at the end nothing comes out of it? The problem is very simple. It is value addition. To make money on this, you must add value and how do you add value? You must process through industries. That is the only way you can add value and encourage the average farmer out there.
I was in the village today. Everywhere I went, hundreds of people were following me. Some were looking for peanuts, some out of excitement, some for no just cause, the governor is around. I took them to my farm and I encouraged them that I will leave money with my farm manager for those who are strong to harvest and to thresh and to blow will get money. This was another way of encouraging them to get busy doing something.
Very soon, some will find their way into criminality and some will begin to migrate from villages to town because there is nothing to do, because there is no value addition. But if we have industries and storage system, processing and storing and marketing to take on the entire value chain and it is flowing, we will discover that at the end of the day, there will be high demand for the raw materials and then our youths, our people in the villages will be engaged.
Who is to do this? It is no longer government. In those days, government was doing it but today as the president rightly reminds us, the government does not have the required capacity, especially when you are struggling to pay salaries.
Governor Ortom also spoke on the issue of salaries and pensions
The Month of April, the allocation that we received was N2billion at the state level. Meanwhile, the monthly bill for pensions alone is N394 million. Salaries gulp about N3 billion naira; and when you add overheads, it’s about N4 billion and then you receive a meagre some of N2billion naira and you have internally generated revenue at an average of N250 billion so you have N2.2 billion and the salary wage bill of N4 billion. How do you handle that? At the local government level, it is the same scenario. We received N2 billion and the salary bill of local government staff and teachers stands at N3.5 billion.
So what does his administration plan to do in the face of these challenges?
“We must look outside the box and looking outside the box is by ensuring that we go into those areas where we have comparative advantages. In agriculture, we take on the entire value change, we add value to it because by the time we process right, by the time we store properly, by the time we market and money comes in, the demand will be high and then the average man will also produce. I also said we shall encourage and develop micro small and medium scale enterprises so that those little things that people do here and there will be fully utilised to boost the economy of the state.
If you take a bottled drink for instance, the person producing the bottle is different from the person processing the content of the product; and most times the person producing the can is different from the person producing the bottle. So there are many ways through which our people can find something doing. We have already started evolving measures to encourage all those micro and medium scale enterprises. I am confident that we are heading somewhere.
I tell you as someone coming from the organised private sector, that I am conversant with all these issues. I did say that we will encourage micro and medium scale development in our state and the third thing was that, we will encourage commercial activities. We can see that even in the villages, there are people who, if the environment is conducive, they can engage in trading activities which will in turn build up the industrial value chain; and these are at the various levels of government. Our administration is committed to all these. (Applause….)
Governor Ortom also met another serious challenge when he assumed office. He shared that problem as well with members of BECCIMA and told the group what his government did to address the situation
“When we came in, we discovered that there was a lot of insecurity in the land. People were afraid to move around. It was really difficult so I promised that I was going to tackle the security challenge and provide the enabling environment. That was why I declared amnesty for those who had carried arms and you have all seen the huge success of the amnesty programme. The fourth thing which I promised was that we will attract investment into our economy by providing the enabling environment for investors to come Benue state, because a lot of people have money but are not willing to invest and they are Benue State indigenes. Some are at the national level. We will draw them from other states to come. The attraction will be that the environment is conducive and we have the raw materials so we can draw them to come. The fact that insecurity was our biggest challenge was the reason why we took on the problem and today by the grace of God, we have been able to minimise the range of insecurity in Benue state and people are moving happily doing their businesses. (Applause….)
As at today, all of you doing business here, you are hardly breaking even. The cost of diesel and pilfering from some of your staff here and there constitute a problem to the growth of business. The advantage for us is that I am part of you so I understand your problems. I therefore want to say that I see light at the end of the tunnel. This dinner alone, the people I have seen, some people I haven’t seen them for a very long time but I am happy that they are here tonight and I want to invite all of you that let’s work together. We have no other state. Those who are making it today in their various states started from somewhere. We can also develop like that.
So what does the Governor expect his people to be doing?
“I wish to appeal to our people; let us be creative. There are thousands and one opportunities that are out there that we can explore for our benefit, for the benefit of our families and for the benefit of Benue state and Nigeria.
There are thousands of opportunities, I was sharing with someone yesterday and we discovered that in those days in the absence of toothpicks if we ate and needed to pick our teeth, we would cut one broomstick or grass from a thatched roof and use. But somebody sat somewhere and said look, there is the need to produce toothpicks and today there are toothpicks all over the place and the unfortunate thing is that up till now we are still importing toothpicks. It is something that can be done here and I believe that we can do it in Benue State. (Applause…..)
The raw material of toothpicks is bamboo tree. It can be done here. Just get the machine from somewhere and you are ready to start. So let us be creative. In the year 2000, I contested for Secretary of PDP and I was manipulated out, so I felt very bad and bitter. I wept and when I got back to my house, as a Christian I decided to pray because the bible says “ in all things give thanks” and when the scripture came to my head, I knelt down to pray and God told me that there was something else for me. That was how Oracle Business Limited came up in Benue State.
Oracle Business Limited that you see today started in my house, kilometre 4, Gboko road. There was no office, everything was within my house; but today, see where we are. So we must begin to think prayerfully and God will guide and lead us to things that we can do to make life better for ourselves and for our families and the society, Benue state and Nigeria.
Governor Ortom reaffirmed his optimism and belief in Project Benue
“Benue state shall rise again! I want to assure you that on my part and my team, the state is in safe hands. The reason is that, we are committed to governing with the fear of God and if for any reason you cannot hold us responsible, God will hold us responsible and so we know our commitment and so we have no basis whatsoever to lie or do a thing that can betray the trust that God and the people have put in us. We will continue to be truthful in all that we do; we will be fair; we will ensure justice and equity; we will ensure transparency; we will ensure accountability; we will be selfless; we will be disciplined; we will ensure integrity in our government; we will ensure reconciliation and peace; we will ensure forgiveness but with restitution.
Because if you are taking what is not your own, bring it back we need it for development and we above all want a united Benue. When we are united, there is so much that we can do. Development will be inevitable because we will be doing the team work and I can assure you that development will just come.
We have deliberately tagged our blueprint as “Our Collective Vision for a New Benue’’. It is deliberate. We are looking at all stakeholders of Benue, though we have a mandate, we will not claim to have the monopoly of knowledge. We want to tap from your experience and knowledge so that can translate it into developing Benue and we will be happy. By the grace of God we will be here for next four years. So don’t sit on the fence. I won the election, my opponent congratulated me. They later took me to the Tribunal and by the grace of God, I did not solicit any help. I did not see any judge but the tribunal confirmed my victory. They were not satisfied. They went to appeal and the Appeal Court said they have no case against me. Now they are at the Supreme Court.
I am a man that believes in the rule of law and due process. By the grace of God, I want to assure you that they will also have no case against me at the Supreme Court. So don’t sit on the fence. Come I invite you; let us work together. I inherited not just an empty treasury but a deficit treasury; but I have thrown that behind me because I must be creative. You must be creative and we will work together we will develop other ways to clear those debts and put us on the path of progress.
I want to assure you that all those people that made us become indebted to the tune of N169 billion, those ones that took our money; they are all going to bring it back and we will sink it into development. The N28 million the government received as bailout is being paid to workers. You can imagine if I had borrowed that money to sink into the economy of the state developing our roads, hospitals industries and providing basic needs of the people, N28 billion is a lot of money but because those people took that money away and have thrown us into debts, we are where we are. Today, they have the guts to stand on social media to say that Ortom is borrowing. I have not borrowed to take care of myself. I have borrowed to take care of my workers because the bible says “the worker deserves his wages”. It is wrong when you do not pay workers when they are working for you. We will continue to do our best. We are transparent about this arrangement
When I had the challenge of receiving just N2 billion federal allocation and having the N4 billion wage bill, I invited workers, we sat together and they agreed that we must find a way around it. So nothing is hidden about our administration. I have no reason whatsoever to steal from this government because what the government provides for me as far as I am concerned is enough to take care of me to make me do the work of this government.
This is our government, if you see any corrupt tendencies somewhere please do not keep quiet, blow the whistle. The Auditor General of the state was with me and I told him that we must uphold transparency in this government. We won’t tolerate corruption. People must be held accountable for their actions. The era of impunity is over. The era of thuggery is also over. We will introduce our youths to useful ventures that can produce good results.
Once again, I appreciate you all and pray that God guides us on this journey. Thank you and God bless you.