Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State Governor, Mr. Terver Akase, in this interview with journalists in Abuja, speaks about the efforts the present administration under Governor Samuel Ortom is making despite the lean resources at its disposal. The interview covers the war against corruption in the state, the achievements being recorded in education, health, infrastructure and SDGs. Akase also speaks on the move to recover N107 billion allegedly looted by the previous government, the return-to-farm policy of his principal’s administration as well as the challenges of security and payment of salaries.
QUESTION: When your principal the Governor says that he inherited an empty and deficit treasury from the previous administration, what exactly does he mean?
AKASE: Thank you very much for this question. You see, since the creation of Benue State, the people had not witnessed what hit the state like locusts under the previous government. At the time Governor Samuel Ortom was sworn into office, the accounts of the state were in red. His predecessor had, in addition to leaving a huge debt burden and unpaid salaries for many months, stopped giving overheads to ministries, departments and agencies, took bank overdrafts and left projects uncompleted. So it was a question of where and with which resources do we start? The government of Gabriel Suswam received federal allocation for the month of May but not even one month’s salary was paid. The gloomy situation necessitated the decision by the government to take a loan of N10 billion and with that, it was able to pay salaries for the months of May and June as well as kick start governance in various sectors of the economy.
So that was the state of affairs in Benue at the time Governor Ortom took over. Today, I am proud to announce to you that the Governor has turned things around tremendously and has restored hope and confidence in the people. His achievements in all sectors of the economy are speaking loud and clear for him as transparency and accountability have continued to drive the wheel of governance in Benue.
QUESTION: Governor Ortom came with a mantra ‘If you chop money, money will chop you’ and and has continued to talk about it anywhere he goes. But critics of his administration are quick to describe his stand against corruption as lip service. As his spokesman, what’s your response to such persons?
AKASE: Ironically, majority of Benue people believe what their Governor has been saying and doing to eliminate corruption from the closets of governance. The people whom you refer to as describing the Governor’s anti-corruption campaign as lip service are those who benefited from the massive looting of the state directly or indirectly and were hoping for a continuation of the plunder if PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) had remained in power. The very day Governor Ortom declared war against corruption in Benue State, he began with members of his cabinet. He said during the State Executive Council meeting that if anyone of the Exco members was interested in making money, the person should honourably resign and go into business. To set the tone for the success of the anti-graft war, the Governor set up the Justice Elizabeth Kpojime Judicial Commission of Inquiry which report indicted the former governor Gabriel Suswam and 51 others for looting N107 billion belonging to Benue State.
Among those indicted was a serving special adviser to the Governor, and as soon as the matter came up, Governor Ortom asked the affected adviser to resign even as the offence upon which he was indicted was not committed during the present administration.
Other steps that the Ortom administration has taken not just to fight corruption but also to restore sanity in the system are many. As we speak, there are two bills before the Benue State House of Assembly. One of the bills is on public procurement, better known as due process. The one is on fiscal responsibility. These bills are the first in the state and when they become law, the battle against corruption will reach an unprecedented height in Benue.
QUESTION: You accuse the previous administration of mismanagement of public resources.
AKASE: (cuts in) That’s absolutely correct.
QUESTION: But there again, critics of your principal say he has followed the same pattern and he so far has little to show. Tell us about your government’s record of achievements in brief. What has your Governor done differently since he assumed office?
AKASE: If you didn’t ask me this question, I would have asked it by myself and given an answer. You see, the opposition party in Benue State has recruited mercenaries whose only job is to hurl daily insults on Governor Ortom and his administration. Their target is to divert attention from the numerous achievements being recorded by the Governor. Falsehood is their vehicle for achieving the impossible task. I call it impossible task because Benue people are wiser than that, that’s why their attempts have failed on all occasions. The people have seen through their veil of lies and rejected same. The people understand and have thrown their weight behind the Governor. The people know that the funds are no longer coming in as before. The people know that the economy is generally bad now so they understand and appreciate the Governor for his efforts despite the current recession.
Within one year and four months of the Ortom administration, a lot has been achieved. Even if you give me the entire airtime on your television, radio stations and the whole space in your newspapers, I will still demand for more pages to tell the Benue story as it is unfolding under the leadership of Governor Samuel Ortom. I will mention only a few here:
You surely read about Governor Ortom’s presentation at one of the side events during the United Nations General Assembly this year. That feat was possible because Benue under Governor Ortom became the first state in the country to pay counterpart funds for construction and equipment of modern primary health centres in 33 communities across the state under Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. The State Government paid N1.2 billion and accessed N1.2 billion from the SDGs office taking the total to N2.4 billion. With the funds, the construction of the health centres, skill acquisition and enterprise development centres, orange packaging plants and boreholes commenced in parts of the state. Most of those projects have been completed as I talk to you.
A similar feat has been achieved by the present administration. The Schools of Nursing and Midwifery which lost accreditation three years ago have regained the accreditation. Imagine how the massive contribution the two schools will make to the manpower needs of the Benue State health sector. This sector was neglected by the previous government and structures in those institutions were all dilapidated and became an eyesore. Two weeks ago, the Governor gave a directive that 86 casual staff of the schools be given letters of permanent appointment and the directive was immediately implemented.
QUESTION: So are you saying that your principal is addressing both employment and training challenges in the health sector at the same time?
AKASE: That’s precisely what I am saying. The Governor had earlier done a similar thing for the Benue State University’s School of Health Sciences. Medical students of the university were stagnated and could not graduate for 12 years until Governor Ortom came on board and immediately approved the payment of accreditation requirements for College of Health Sciences and the University Teaching Hospital. Seeing the commitment demonstrated by the Ortom administration, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria gave the accreditation and opened the gates for the graduation of 40 pioneer medical doctors after 12 years of stagnation.
In education, the success story is equally impressive. The construction and rehabilitation of 740 primary schools in the 23 local government areas of the state is ongoing. Arrangements have been concluded for the procurement and installation of 100 computers and portal construction in primary and junior secondary schools across the state. The Governor also approved the payment of salaries of BSU Technical School Staff after five years of non-payment. Very soon, renovation and rehabilitation of 64 government-owned secondary schools will commence across the state.
In the area of infrastructure, the present government mobilized contractors back to site to complete many roads abandoned by the previous administration while work on two new road projects is ongoing. The road projects abandoned by the former government are, Zaki Biam – Afia – Gbeji, Taraku – Naka – Agagbe, Oju – Obussa – Utonkon, Otukpo – Utonkon – Igumale, Oshigbudu – Ogbaji, Igbor – Ikpa – Wannune, Vandeikya – Koti-Yough – Adikpo, Ge – Ikyobo – Agbeede – Amua – Anshagba, Tordonga – Zaki Biam with spur to Tsewuaze – Tiza – Shila as well as the Daudu – Gbajimba road. The new road contracts awarded by our administration which work is also ongoing are Mobile Police Barracks – Yaikyo – Apir and the Origbo – Imande – Akpur – Gbajimba road.
Still on infrastructure, work has already commenced on the Makurdi Cargo Airport which is public-private partnership.
QUESTION: Benue is reputed as the food basket of the nation. Interestingly, your boss is a farmer and he made agriculture one of the pillars of his administration. But more than one year down the road since May 29, 2015, the food basket still looks empty. How is your government keeping its promise of agriculture-driven industrialization?
AKASE: This is obviously one of the best questions you have asked me so far and I thank you for the opportunity. The Return-to-farm policy of the Ortom administration is well on course and the agric revolution is sweeping across the Benue valley like a hurricane. The people are loving every bit of what the government is already doing or is about to do in the agriculture sector. One of the first things the Governor did was to subsidize fertilizer for farmers by 38%. The subsidy and the method of distribution ensured that fertilizer got to the actual farmers at affordable prices. Though there were a isolated cases of complaints in some quarters, the exercise was major improvement on what the people experienced under the previous administration. As we interact this minute, public-private arrangements have been concluded to enable Benue farmers purchase and own tractors and other agriculture equipment at subsidized rates. Marketing Boards will soon be established to boost commercial agriculture in every part of Benue State. When the rains stop, clearing of mass hectares of land for dry season farming will commence while dams will also be built. The investor who has taken over Taraku Mills has set aside about N6 billion for only the purchase of soya beans from Benue farmers this year. The State Government last week, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bank of Industry to jointly provide N2 billion loans to farmers of the state. This move will no doubt place the needed capital in the hands of our farmers and you bet that the economy of the state will be better for it.
To be continued…
In the concluding part of the interview, CPS Terver Akase enumerates more of Governor Ortom’s achievements, the Governor’s drive to recover stolen funds belonging to the state plus, security, delayed payment of salaries and other development issues.
Watch out for it.