Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, yesterday received the report of the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Commission of Inquiry after which he made the following remarks, and thereafter, spoke with journalists who confronted him, at the Benue Peoples House, Makurdi. Below are excerpts:
By Daniel Pila and Nelson Ogbu
Our very distinguished chairman and members of the judicial commission of inquiry into funds accrued, received, and utilized in Benue State from 2007 to 2015, my Lords, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
Let me start by appreciating the almighty God for today. You will recall that during the inauguration of this commission, I made it very clear that as one who fears God, my vision for the state was very clear. It is free of witch hunting, free of blackmail and as Governor; I will always be guided by the fear of God.
The Bible says, you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. It was going to be a difficult thing for me to begin to accuse people who ran this government in the past without facts and in the wisdom that God gave me, I felt that there was need to set up this commission and I appreciate the Chief Judge for giving us a woman who is known for integrity.
Her operations as a judge have never been in doubt when it comes to integrity. We also nominated credible people that would assist her and I’m happy that in her conclusiontoday, she appreciated everyone that worked with her.
Indeed, we knew from the beginning that this work was much and that was why we gave a time frame of six months and we were even willing to extend if need be but I’m happy that within a record time they have been able to submit this report.
This shows the level of commitment, and one thing that was noticed during the sittings of the commission was that they gave opportunity to all. I happened to read some invitations in the papers and I’m aware that everyone that wanted to exonerate himself was given the ample opportunity to do so and I’m glad that no one will come back today in the course of me implementing this report to say that he was not given an opportunity.
It was an open inquiry that was being done and I understand people who were not even mentioned but had issues went and testified and I’m happy that today we have this report. Like I said during the inauguration, throughout the sittings of the panel, I did not send anyone to interfere with their sitting. I say that before God and I’m happy that today we have this report.
Now in the course of me implementing this report, no one will say that we are going after him or her or we are witch hunting. After the inauguration of the panel, in the wisdom that God gave to me again, I invited stakeholders of Benue state devoid of party affiliation. All parties were invited, non-partisan people were also invited and stakeholders in Benue State unanimously approved the commission’s work. I want to assure you that I’m not alone in this business of knowing how our commonwealth was spent and those who are in doubt at least from the presentations of the chairman you can appreciate that over one trillion came to the state within the space of this eight years that we’re talking about and over N200 billion was not accounted for. Then you can begin to appreciate why we have salary arrears, pensions and gratuity of over N69 billion out of the 219 billion, you will still have a balance.
You can now appreciate why you have contracts and jobs that were done that are unaccounted for and not paid to the tune of over N69 billion. You can now see why we are still having challenges; you can see why civil servants who have retired are not receiving their gratuity and pensions. You can now see why the debt profile of the state went that high and you can now understand why the people are desperate to discredit this government for trying to bring to light what they did in the past.
On behalf of myself and the state executive council, Mr. Chairman and members I want to deeply appreciate you for this sacrifice that you have done for Benue State. I know that in the course of doing this, some of them were intimidated yet they went out boldly to do it. Benue State should appreciate this.
Yes if I have N219 billion, I will do wonders for this state. N219 billion is a lot of money. Let them bring back this money and even the other N802 billion we are talking about, even that one there are issues there. One thing that I will do to justify the pains that you took to unearth these figures and bring them to us is to ensure that the report is implemented and to assure you that every kobo that was misappropriated will be recovered and used for the development of Benue State.
We have always thrown this challenge, even on the day we were inaugurating this commission, we said that we are also a government but we know that our government too is in transit and that one day we are not going to be here. Other people will take over from us and so we have cautioned ourselves to be more careful, more diligent in ensuring that we go through due process in everything that we are doing knowing fully well thattomorrow there will be a search light. This report should be a timely warning to myself and members of the state executive council.
We should know that we are holding brief for the people of Benue State, tomorrow we will not be here and I can also assure you that the Chief Judge will be there to give another chairman to preside over the affairs of what we are doing. So each time I insist on due process, each time I am hard on you, I’m protecting you.
For me, I want at the end of my tenure, even if I do not make money, I want to go back to my village and do my farm work.
Governance is about selflessness and sacrifice. The over five million Benue people choosing me to be Governor, the over five million people choosing 13 of you to be commissioners and 18 of you to be advisers, it is a very big honor. That alone is enough and so what we require to do is to sacrifice and be selfless in our conduct.
So I want to encourage all of us and to say that reward comes from heaven. When you do well, God rewards you. John 3:27 states that “a man can receive nothing except given to him from above”. Promotion does not come from the east, west, and north or south, it comes from God and you can only have this when you do the right thing. God will always be on the side of truth, integrity, fairness and when you ensure that you do justice, when you ensure that you do the right thing at all times, God will always be with you.
So Mr. Chairman, words cannot express our inestimable appreciation for the selfless service that you have given to us and we pray that God will help us to implement this to the glory of his name and for the development of Benue State.
And may the almighty God bless you and your members, may he locate you at the time of your need and fill the gaps so that you will be grateful to him for this selfless service that you have offered us.
We are told that while in the course of this assignment there were issues. I wouldn’t be surprised because some people may have gone to Babalawos and caused some witches to go after some of you. We will take over the medical bills of those staff that had these challenges just as a token of our appreciation for this committee.
Thank you very much and may God bless you all.
… HIS CHAT WITH JOURNALISTS
How do you intend to prosecute the people who have been indicted by the Kpojime Commission?
I’m giving them an option where people are ready to make refunds, because we’re in a hurry to develop Benue State but we have financial challenges. We want to pay salaries, we want to pay pensioners their money, we want to pay gratuity, and we want to fulfill our contractual obligations including the ones that we inherited. With N219 billion, it is enough to settle all these problems and challenges, nobody will hear about bailout again. I can even take from there and refund to the federal government the much they gave me as bailout. The fact is that this kind of recklessness we must check it and the unfortunate thing is that these same people are sponsoring people on social media, sponsoring people on national media to blackmail this government that we are not doing anything when they stole all the money. They will have to return that money. I’m telling you, here when you chop money, money will chop you. We’re not joking with anyone. This is the era of eradicating corruption in Nigeria. It has been a cankerworm for a very long time and we have been paying lip service on this, today no more lip service. There is no sacred cow, no hiding place for anyone who has taken our commonwealth, they will bring it back. We need rural roads, we need electricity, we need our hospital to work, we need our schools to work and this is where this money was going and so we must recover it by the grace of God.
Would there be any form of political settlement at the end of the day?
There is no political settlement on this matter of our commonwealth. I invited stakeholders the other day last year and the entire stakeholders were unanimous. This was a non-partisan stakeholders’ meeting and all of them were unanimous that refunds must be made for our commonwealth. So no settlement, there is nothing like settlement.
What do you mean by an alternative way of recovering the stolen funds?
What I’m saying is, if you can make refunds, I have no case against you. If you said you took N10 billion and you refund that N10 billion, I will tell you to go and sin no more, but where you cannot, that is where I will have a problem with you.