SPEECH BY HIS EXCELLENCY, GOVERNOR SAMUEL ORTOM ON THE OCCASION OF 2017 DEMOCRACY DAY CELEBRATION, HELD AT IBB SQUARE ON THE 29TH OF MAY, 2017
My beloved Compatriots
Exactly two years ago, at about the same time, I stood before you to take my oath of allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and oath of office as your Governor. It was a good time to thank citizens, especially workers, artisans, farmers, youth, women and indeed all citizens of Benue for voting me into office as the Governor of Benue State.
- I extended my salutation to our great party the All Progressive Congress, APC, my campaign team and distinguished leaders of the party for their wisdom, direction and leadership. By voting me, they took Benue away from a ruling cabal to a governing team.
- You will remember my promise to be the governor of all including those who did not vote for me. I also promised to govern with the fear of God, trusting God in all and all.
- Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, today, we are all gathered here to celebrate God’s faithfulness to the people of Benue, to my family and to me for successfully taking us through the past two years.
- Let me congratulate President Mohammadu Buhari at this occasion for piloting the affairs of Nigeria and providing us with good leadership. With him at the helm of affairs we may soon move from Economic Recession to Economic Growth.
- I also salute the National Chairman and members of our great Party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, across the nation for keeping faith with democracy. Democracy is the collective “will” of our citizens and no one or group of persons will take it away from us now or in the future. Let me also thank my indefatigable APC Chairman in the state, Comrade Abba Yaro and all members of APC for their hardwork and dedication for the good of Benue. Our political leaders, Distinguished Senator, George Akume, Senator Barnabas Gemade, and Hon. Speaker Terkimbi Ikyange, and members of the Federal and State Legislature here, have been pillars of support for our democracy. We salute you all. I congratulate all citizens of Benue State, especially Civil Servants for their resilience in the wake of a bad recession, our spiritual fathers who have been praying, and our traditional rulers who are now emerging to be fathers to all. I also congratulate our security agencies who have exchanged their comfort for our peace and security
- Our current democratic dispensation allows an elected governor like me to serve a four-year term. Like football which you all love, our regime has now reached half time. It is time to savour the goals we have scored, strategize on how to score more goals and come out victoriously. My Deputy, Engr. Benson Abounu and members of the State Executive and Security Councils have worked hard in the last two years and I commend them for loyalty and hardwork.
- I am glad to report that, we have come into our half time on the side of victory. We have peace and tranquility which we never had, we now have security in the land which we lacked at the time we took over. We have enough food to eat and sell, most of those who were crying are beginning to laugh, those who were gloomy are now smiling because the Lord has been good to us.
- Last week on May 22, 2017, we had All Benue Stakeholders Meeting. It was a congregation of all the distinguished sons and daughters of Benue state drawn from all walks of life, cutting across religious, ethnic and political divides. In the meeting, I gave a comprehensive report of my score card in the last two years.
- For the benefit of those who were not there, let me give a brief summary of our score card in the last two years. But before I do that permit me to remind you of the state of things at the time we took over the governance of Benue State two years ago.
- Ladies and Gentlemen, my Deputy, Engr. Benson Abounu and I came into office fully prepared to address these challenges. Our response for repositioning Benue State was carefully encapsulated in our Blueprint: “Our Collective Vision for a New Benue”. This has been our compass for effectively dealing with the challenges of governance in Benue State. Our work has been guided by the five strategic areas of
Ø Provision of Good Governance anchored on the fear of God
Ø Agriculture driven Industrialization with a passion
Ø Provision of Critical Infrastructure to facilitate development
Ø STEAM based Education/Health Services
Ø Promotion of Gender Equality, women, children, youth and people with disability.
- Ladies and gentlemen at the time we took over,:
- There was poor security of lives and property in Benue State. Government business was sluggish
- Corruption and brazen embezzlement of funds was so obvious that it could be seen and touched.
- Lying was the language of governance. Wild parties, orgies, ungodliness, witchcraft, and idol worshipping was common and Government House was desecrated with all forms of ungodliness.
- Government of Benue literarily became a sea of political appointees with over 500 Special/Senior Special Assistants, 30 Advisers, 17 Commissioners together with a litany of praise singers.
- The biggest challenge we inherited was insecurity. Citizens were attacked by hoodlums day and night. Big markets in Tivland like Ihugh, Adikpo, Zaki Biam, Tor-Donga and Aliade were closing down because hoodlums used to snatch money from traders who sold their wares at such markets.
- Primary school teachers were on strike for about one year. Quality of education nose-dived because teachers were on strike at all levels of our educational system.
- There was general labour unrest.
- Our Schools of Nursing and Midwifery as well as College of Health Technology, Agasha were closed. Benue State University was closed. Our children who elected to study medicine were stuck for 12years because government never provided funds to facilitate the accreditation of BSU Medical School.
- Civil Servants were depressed. Benue State was in a state of anomie and hopelessness.
- Institutions in the State were collapsing, family was abused, traditional rulers became politicized and acted like members of a political party.
- Selection and appointment of chiefs was arbitrary and was for the highest bidder.
- Youths were in disarray and able bodied sons of Benue were becoming an army of beggars and some graduating into area boys. Cultism ruled the streets.
- Agricultural production in Benue was stunted as the quality and quantity of Agric inputs including Fertilizer was compromised through corrupt practices. Farmers deserted their farms into refugee camps as a result of herdsmen/farmers crisis and both government and the traditional institutions had no clue as to what to do. Farmers were hungry, angry and frustrated as there was no policy in place to address the crises.
- Most of the International Development Agencies had left Benue because they could not enjoy the co-operation of government. UNDP, UNICEF, IFAD, DFID, USAID, JICA and even those that remained were packing their computers to leave town when we arrived on the seat of governance.
- Contract awards were inflated, and not completed and businessmen were owed billions of naira. Government had questionable bank loans, over drafts, bonds and unclean relationship with some financial and security institutions. Stocks owned by government were sold and proceeds put into private use by top government officials
- This short review gives you an idea of where we are coming from so that we can appreciate how far we have travelled in two years.
- Ladies and gentlemen, my desire today is not to list our achievements in the last two years. Rather, I want to clearly point out specific “CHANGE” that has taken place in Benue State in the last two years. The slogan of our party is “Change” and I know people may be asking in their hearts: What has really changed in Benue State?
- I like to submit that a lot has changed for good:
- Benue citizens are now more secured in their homes, on the high ways and on their farms than two years ago. That is change!
- We have passed laws like Prohibition of Open Grazing of Livestocks, Prohibition of Abduction, Kidnapping, Hostage-taking, and Secret Cults Law, 2017.
- We have submitted over 12 Executive bills and five have already been passed by the State House of Assembly to strengthen security of citizens.
- We have mobilized Armed Forces, Police, State Security Services and Civil Defence to all flash points in the State to maintain peace and security. Benue is now one of the most peaceful States in our country as citizens go about freely without molestation.
- Government business is now done in an orderly way and with the fear of God.
- Benue as a State has been dedicated to God, and Benue citizens have become conscious of God as a Supreme Father and Prayer as a way out to solve problems.
- Witchcraft, Idol worship, Orgies and wild parties have given way to all night prayers sessions, fasting and prayer.
- Most political appointees now are decent people who have brought credibility, respect and dignity to governance.
- We now have a small and effective government composed of a cream of Benue people with a good blend of young and older experienced people.
- Not 500 but about 100 Assistants now. Not 30 Advisers, but only 20 now. Not 17 Commissioners, but only 13.
- All these are efficiently and effectively piloting the affairs of government. That is change that you have seen and known in the last two years.
- International Development Agencies that left are coming back. UNDP is working with us. IFAD is helping greatly in our Agricultural Sector. World Bank is with us. UNFPA, DFID, USAID, CRUDAN, Mercy Corps and several other bilateral and Multi-lateral agencies are now ready to work with the Benue State Government to support social and economic development of the State. This is also the type of change that is affecting your health, your education, your community and your state.
- Institutions of Government that were too weak and corrupt are being reformed.
- Government is closing down illegal schools,
- Hoodlums are chased out of building sites,
- Youth begging is outlawed, and hope is restored to youth through opportunities for Skills Acquisition and Income Generation activities facilitated by agencies of government like Sustainable Development Initiatives that has Skills on the Wheel Programme in addition to three Entrepreneuship Development Centres in Ado, Guma and Makurdi.
- Ladies and gentlemen, Traditional rulers are now apolitical, and Involvement of any traditional ruler at all levels in politics is prohibited and sanction awaits offenders. Our Royal fathers are now taking their ascribed roles as fathers of the state and custodians of our culture and tradition.
- We successfully executed an Amnesty program that ushered in peace and tranquility to Benue state. The program called on youths to surrender their weapons which were destroyed in accordance with United Nations requirements. Over 900 youth surrendered and are being rehabilitated to take up new livelihood. Criminals have lost their boldness. They now live in the bush, moving from one forest to the other, hiding from security agencies. We have given a blow on criminals in order to make Benue secure for all. There is no better change than one that allows you to sleep with your two eyes closed devoid of molestation.
- We initiated an executive bill that led to the amended Chieftaincy Law that has been used in the appointment of Traditional Rulers across Benue state. We supervised the free and fair appointment and installation of the Tiv Paramount Ruler, The Tor Tiv, as well as First and Third class Chiefs across the state. We have received loud applause from Benue citizens for the peaceful and most transparent appointment of traditional rulers. It is no more peddling of influence or use of money but Benue communities now choose their own leaders.
- Concerning farmers and herdsmen crisis we have refused to be helpless. We have pioneered the debate and promoted Ranching as the solution to farmers/herdsmen crises. Nigerians know and deeply appreciate our contribution on the debate of finding solution to the incessant crisis between herdsmen and farmers in our country. In leading this debate, we never looked back, but do so locally, nationally, and internationally calling on Nigeria to adopt Ranching as an international best practice in Cattle rearing in Africa and other continents. Posterity will not forgive us if we keep quiet when a decision is needed from us. We have taken a bold decision to escape the unpleasant and harsh judgment of posterity.
- Let me use this forum to clear the misconception about Prohibition of Open Grazing Law 2017. It is not to send herdsmen away. Herdsmen can freely live in Benue provided their livestocks are ranched. Prohibition of Open Grazing is not only for Fulanis. All persons including Benue citizens who have livestock must have them ranched or they will most certainly face a five year jail term or N1million fine as provided in the Law.
- We listened to the people and their demand for transparency and accountability in governance. This led us to the setting up of the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Commission. The Justice Kpojime Commission will ever remain a remarkable event of our government because if you ask the wrong questions, you cannot have correct answers. Justice Kpojime Commission put in place by our government enabled us to ask the correct questions. Even if we are yet to have the answers, we sure know that the questions the Benue people asked through the Kpojime Commission are correct questions that must be answered by those concerned. They may not answer today, but remember tomorrow is longer than yesterday, and answers will come.
- Our relations with labour and unions has changed for good. We have not taken workers and their union leaders for granted. They have all relevant information on activities of government including full knowledge of funds that come in and how they are disbursed. Transparency has its own rewards including the Labour peace we now enjoy in the state. Let me commend the workers of Benue and the Labour Unions for their understanding and sacrifices for the future of our children.
- One of the common demand of our people is payment of salaries. Our commitment to welfare of workers is the reason for declaration of state of emergency on salary payment. As the Bible says: “a worker deserves his wages”. A state of emergency on Salaries was declared when we found our resources unable to pay 4 -7 months salary arrears to State, LG employees and Pensioners. What does emergency on salary mean? It means the concentration of resources, energy and effort to clear arrears. It means looking for creative ways to pay salaries going forward it means fishing out ghost workers and eliminating fraud in the system. It also means bringing dignity to the Benue worker once again. Listening to peoples’ aspiration and responding to same is another change the APC government has ushered into governance.
- Some may ask how did we get to this salary problem? Many of you know that the minimum wage was poorly handled in Benue State by the last administration. It is only in Benue state that we have Civil servants earning fraudulently, salaries higher than the Governor and his Deputy. We have detected the crafty transfer of potential retirees to tertiary institutions, in order to gain additional five years, without lecturing experience. There are cases of Promotion based on unauthorized certificates, abuse of allowances, and of course, ghost workers, mainstreaming and scheduling Payment of double Salaries etc. We have started work and can assure that the APC government in the state is determined to change the situation and workers will be paid their salaries and arrears of salaries and pension are cleared.
- But when would the Emergency on Salary Declaration end? This action would end when we are up to date on Salary and pension obligations. It will end when we have plugged all leakages in wage bill administration. And finally, it will end when our sources of revenue exceed aggregate Capital and Operations expenditure of Government.
- We need to complete and institute democracy at the grassroots. By June 3, Benue indigenes will go to polls to elect local government chairmen, and councilors. I call on all citizens to keep a date with 3rd of June 2017 and go out en mass to excise their franchise and elect local government chairpersons and councilors of their choice.
- It is well known that we chose the empowerment of Youth and Women as our cardinal objective. In this regard, and given the technology savvy nature of our youth, we are establishing the Benue Information Technology Development Agency, BITDA, and evaluating the designation and use of Internet enabled Parks in the Capital and other places. This would get the Youth consummating their businesses, advertising their wares and interacting with their counterparts freely. These actions would take many youths off the street to be involved in more productive economic activities.
- Our administration has remained committed to its core values which are anchored on the fear of God which explained our objective of dedicating the state to God last year. These include transparency, accountability, fairness, justice, humility, selflessness, discipline, integrity, integration, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and unity. We believe that these values make change possible and development inevitable.
- We have continued to emphasize zero tolerance for corruption and have warned that government officials who divert public funds into personal use will be punished. We have continued to reiterate that our philosophy emphasizes that public office remains an opportunity to offer quality service to the people. Those who intend to make money are being encouraged to get into the private sector to do business for which we are creating an enabling environment.
- Besides laws and policies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, our government has many visible achievements that you can see and touch. Suffice it to say that:
- Women are back to the markets to sell and keep their money.
- Successful execution of amnesty program with seizure and destruction hundreds of weapons in accordance with United Nations Standards.
- Schools have resumed and quality is improving
- Over 740 Primary School projects are being executed.
- Colleges have regained accreditation
- We now have graduated 152 doctors in four sets from BSU Medical School
- School of Nursing and Midwifery has been renovated and accredited with resumption of academic activities after admission of Students.
- More than 40 Primary Health Care Centres have been built.
- Procurement and supply of ambulances and essential drugs to Agatu, Gboko, Ohimini, Oju, Ushongo and Tarka LGAs.
- Over 500 water projects executed across the state
- Water and Sanitation in 31 communities.
- Roads have been built across the three senatorial zones
- Facelift of many government institutions like House of Assembly Complex, Commissioners’ Quarters, Ministry of Justice, Government Girls Secondary School, The Tor Tiv’s Temporary Residence.
- Training of 2691 Youth on Digital Marketing in collaboration with Google Nigeria
- Additional units of Housing for workers at Owner Occupier Scheme in Makurdi.
- More food in the land as Agriculture is revived.
- Regular supply of Agric inputs especially fertilizers.
- Agricultural Mechanization with massive clearing of land.
- Agro Processing Factories in 6 LGAs SDGs
- Tractor bought and to be supplied to farmers at subsidized prices
- Fertilizer Blending Plant revived
- Plastic Industry revived and expanded
- Benue is working. Benue will work. Our APC led Change is real.
A separate booklet documenting our achievements in two years is being circulated. These achievements cover all the five strategic areas in our blueprint.
FLAG-OFF OF 2017 CROPPING SEASON
- What has also changed during our two years in office is deserved emphasis on Agriculture. If the economy of our state is to change, our Agriculture must be mechanized and expanded. Benue has increased its productive capacity in agriculture in the last two years because of various incentives. Citizens have now seen the light and we now have several Small Processing Industries scattered across the three Senatorial Zones of the State. Several Rice, Yam, Cassava and Food Processing Companies have emerged in the last two years as a result of the conducive environment we have created.
- I am delighted to use this occasion of Democracy Day to flag-off the 2017 Cropping Season, Fertilizer Sales and Distribution to farmers of Benue State. The event is another milestone towards resuscitating the agricultural sector for economic and industrial development of the State.
- Let me stress that this Administration will leave no stone unturned in bringing suitable solutions to the multitude of problems Benue Farmers face. Our determination has helped to sustain the position of Benue State on the Agricultural map of Nigeria and facilitated food sufficiency for the State. In this regard, Government is working conscientiously to supply quality farm inputs on time and at highly subsidized rates to Benue farmers. That is why the State is up-to-date in the payment of Counterpart Funds for Fadama III Additional Financing, as well as IFAD Rice and Cassava Value Chain Development programmes. The aim of this is to support farmers in terms of direct finance, good agricultural practices and transfer of improved agricultural technologies.
- In the same vein, Government has provided funds for the mobilization, sensitization and training of farmers to participate in CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme. This, to a large extent has increased rice production and expanded the employment opportunities in the agricultural sector. It also created wealth for both rice millers and farmers in the State. This is the change that Benue people have long desired.
- While Government will continue to ensure Benue State farmers’ participation in this laudable programme, it is expected that farmers must live up to the expectations of the financial institutions that are releasing funds for the implementation of the programme. The funds and inputs were received as loans, and diligent efforts must be made for the repayment of these facilities in order to safeguard the integrity of farmers. This will also encourage the financial institutions to deal with Benue farmers with greater confidence. On our part, we will not relent in the effort to ensure that Benue farmers get their fair share by creating a wider window for more farmers to participate in the programme this year.
- Our Administration is fully aware that provision of fertilizer is cardinal to agricultural development in the State. To achieve this, the State Executive Council has approved the procurement of 7,500 metric tons of assorted brands of inorganic fertilizers and 5,000 litres of liquid plant health promoters for supply to Benue farmers at affordable prices for the 2017 cropping season. The Fertilizer Blending plant has also been revamped to boost supplies.
- Ladies and gentlemen, these farm inputs are to be delivered to farmers directly by the vendors engaged by the State Government under the strict supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Farmers are to pay their share of the cost of the respective inputs as redeemed to the vendors, while the State Government is to pay the subsidy component of the inputs redeemed by the farmers to the vendor after diligent reconciliation and certification by the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
- My dear farmers, Ladies and Gentlemen, the approved farmers’ share of payment and the respective subsidy component for the various farm inputs are as follows:
|S/No||Farm Input||Amount payable by farmers (N)||Subsidy component (N)||Total Cost (N)|
|(iii)||Urea 46% (50kg)||4,000||4,500||8,500|
|(v)||Organic (1 litre)||2,000||1,800||3,800|
|(vi)||Plant Health Promoter (1 litre)||3,500||2,500||6,000|
- Once again, I call on all well-meaning people of the State to join hands with us in our efforts to make Benue State great through agriculture. I also solicit the co-operation of all farmers of Benue State to ensure that these critical farm inputs are used judiciously in the farm for the progress of the State and the nation at large. The declaration of Fridays as farming days for most civil servants during planting and harvesting periods underscores our commitment to nutrition and food security.
- At this juncture, I have the honour and privilege to flag-off the 2017 Cropping Season, Fertilizer Sales and Distribution for bumper harvest in Benue State.
- Finally, I wish to state my resolve to serve Benue people with all my heart. I do know that the years ahead will be greater than the years past. I am fully persuaded that with God we are able to go up and take Benue State from North to South. Though the giants may be on the way to hinder, God will surely give us victory. We only need to move to the righteous side with God. Move on to the Righteous side with God.
- Thank you and God bless.
- In God we trust.