SPEECH BY CHIEF DR SAMUEL ORTOM ON THE OCCASION OF HIS DECLARATION AS BENUE STATE GOVERNORSHIP ASPIRANT ON THE PLATFORM OF THE PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC PARTY (PDP), AT THE IBB SQUARE IN MAKURDI ON 24TH OCTOBER 2014.
1. Permit me to welcome you all from far and near. Our gathering here is the culmination of my desire that dates back to 1992. While I was serving as a Local Government Chairman of Guma, I had time to deeply reflect on politics as an avenue of development. It was then that I decided that one day, God willing, I will contest and become the Governor of Benue state. That day is near and indeed is here.
2. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have prepared for the journey that we are about to embark on. Spiritually, I have prayed and consulted with both laity and clergy. Politically, I have served as a faithful party man who was entrusted with several party responsibilities including PDP State Secretary, State Deputy Chairman and National Auditor. Educationally, I have in spite of the challenges which greeted my early life, now have far above the minimum requirement constitutionally approved for governorship. In terms of executive experience, I have served this nation from the Local Government to the highest level where I resigned a few days ago as Hon. Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment. I also had a stint as supervising minister of Aviation for five months. I thank the president of Nigeria Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR for the opportunity he gave me to serve our dear nation. I also commend and appreciate the Governor of Benue state, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Dr Gabriel Suswam for his contributions to my business and political careers and the cordial working relations we enjoyed while I served as Minister.
3. You all know my famous story of moving from grass to Grace. As long as I live I will worship and appreciate the King of Kings, the Lord of lords, and My Redeemer. He is the one who saved me and took me from a position of a Motor Tout to become a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is the one who took a drop-out from form two to become a degree holder, He is the one who took a nobody like me and gave me enormous grace, a wonderful wife and family and to be in a position to gather all of you here today. Join me to worship the God who has given me the life, good health, courage, wisdom and abundant grace to stand before you this wonderful day. What God has done for me he can do for every one of us.
4. I have a clear idea of the problems of Benue state. As a young state of just two years short of 40 years, one must appreciate the leaders including military governors that ruled this state and laid the foundation of development. I want to salute the late First Civilian Governor of Benue state, His Excellency Mr. Aper Aku whose enduring legacy remains a reference point. I also salute His Excellency the late Rev Fr Moses Adasu. His Excellency Senator George Akume and His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Dr. Gabriel Torwua Suswam who have moved Benue State to the current enviable heights under the platform of the PDP deserve special commendation. We note and salute their sacrifices, commitment and contributions to the development of our dear State.
5. We recognize the need to move beyond present realities in our committed quest to create the Benue of our dream. Benue state at this critical stage in its history requires alternative thinking, good leadership and action if we must build a greater, free, just and compassionate state!
6. According to research provided by the British Council, Nigeria Office, rural and urban youths constitute 50-60% of the population of the state. The greatest challenges of Youths in Benue state remain poverty and unemployment. At least 75% of Benue youth are poor and 85% are unemployed. This leads to their marginalization, alienation, dispossession and exclusion. This is sad and totally unacceptable because high poverty and unemployment among youth threatens social stability. Indeed the study shows that there is a nexus between youth poverty, unemployment and insecurity. This is so because large cohorts of unemployed or underemployed young people destabilize their societies, fueling crime and creating conditions where civil conflict becomes more likely.”
7. Our abundant human and natural resources are yet to be fully converted to wealth and jobs. Our State has very few industries; agriculture still has to be modernized into business to create jobs. Benue State needs more entrepreneurs, we need investors, we need capital, we need better schools, roads, we need more health facilities, and we need more water, more electricity and other infrastructures. We are yet to create a gender friendly, women friendly, youth friendly and a peaceful society where women and people with physical and other disabilities are harnessed for collective development.
FIRST PRINCIPLES FOR CHANGING THE BENUE STORY
8. I recognize the diversity of talents, gifts and brands in Benue. I will work together with teams to enable us achieve much more as citizens that are inspired, organized and deployed to various tasks. I will promote cooperation and mutuality between the sectors rather than promoting destructive competition.
9. I present to Benue State today a five-point strategy for realizing the Benue of our dream in our life time. These five strategies are: (1) Good Governance and revenue security, (2) Agriculture-driven Industrialization, (3) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-based Education and Health services (4) Investments in Critical Infrastructure and (5) Gender, Women, Youth, Sports and people with disabilities. Details of these strategies are contained in my blueprint for Project Benue which shall be unveiled soon. However, let me give a brief insight into the key areas.
I. GOOD GOVERNANCE AND REVENUE SECURITY:
We shall create the enabling environment for participatory governance. My governing team will be selected based on a competency tests. I will ensure revenue security by upgrading BIR to a Revenue commission. The Civil service will be reformed and we will lift embargo on employment. We will create jobs so as to put our youths back to work. We will reorganize the pension office to implement participatory pension scheme and we will address the problem of pensioners at both state and local government levels. We will reduce cost of Governance through e-governance.
We will organize Town Hall Meetings at least quarterly to keep our constituents adequately informed of Government policies and programs and to receive feedbacks from them. Community policing system will be established to strengthen security and complement Nigerian Federal police. Our Government will be committed to promoting participation by men, women and youth as a key cornerstone of good governance. We will ensure that Civil servants enjoy their rights and labor freedom.
2. AGRICULTURAL DRIVEN INDUSTRIALIZATION will be the centre piece of our economic policy. A Chinese economic model of development will be adopted and made specific to Benue State. This model places emphasis on pooling together of Small and Medium Enterprises within a locality to share innovative facilities, ideas and production resources in a closer business network in order to reduce costs. Agriculture driven industrialization is based on leveraging on our rich agriculture by setting up small processing units to process the available agricultural produce. The core objective of our Agricultural driven industrialization will be to drive industrialization, enhance Food Security, create jobs, provide employment, reduce poverty, and enhance the economic growth of the state. This will involve stimulation of agricultural growth through modernization, diversification, genetic upgrade, disease control and commercialization of agriculture in the state.
We shall facilitate the establishment of organized markets for agricultural produce and products across the State. We shall create an enabling environment for the growth of agro-based small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) along the value chain. We shall revive schools of agriculture and train critical human resource to fill the skill gaps and enhance agricultural production. We will introduce Schools Agriculture program. Our plan is to establish Agricultural Credit Financing Schemes (ACFS) in the state similar to the Federal Governments Growth Enhancement Support (GES) program to enhance agricultural output.
We will undertake the re-organization of moribund state-owned industries and privatize them to invigorate production activities. We will establish new industries both in agriculture and solid mineral sectors through public private sector partnerships (PPP). We will support provision of Credit Guarantee services to facilitate access to capital by SMEs.
We will stimulate trade and investment by creating an Investment Promotion Agency to promote and facilitate investment inflow and exports. A One-Stop Investment Centre will set up for ease of doing business in the state. In partnership with strategic investors, we will establish a Bank to make international financial transactions easier for our people.
A solid rural development policy will be pursued by providing the basic amenities required to improve the quality of life of our rural dwellers. An integrated rural development plan will be designed to address present rural settlement patterns which are poorly linked with no infrastructures. I see a new Benue where there will be participatory clustering of villages and elimination of thatched roofs again.
3. CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURES
According to the World Bank, industrialization and economic growth is not possible without critical infrastructures. I am aware of this and we plan to complement the veritable efforts of His Excellency, the Rt. Honorable Gabriel Suswam alias Mr. Infrastructure. We will seek for investment in grid and off grid power solutions with focus on coal, hydro, solar, recycled waste and geo-thermal power generation to increase electricity supply in the state.
We will revitalize and build capacity for road, rail, water, and air transportation.
We shall construct several roads each year and also embark on modernization of local government headquarters.
By the grace of God we will provide the people of Benue with a civil airport in Makurdi, and light rail from Otukpo to Gboko to Zaki-Biam and then Gboko to Makurdi (with Gboko as a hub).
Reticulation of water is planned in all the major urban areas in Benue (ie Makurdi, Gboko, Otukpo, and Katsina-Ala) to ensure access to water in all homes. We will expand bandwith and invest in hi-speed internet broadband access to facilitate e-governance.
We have plans for mass housing and two housing layouts in Makurdi and a housing layout in each main town in Benue. We will fast track process of obtaining C of O up to title issuance within one month from application. We will develop tourism and hospitality industry, establish wild life park and a Museum and make Benue attractive to tourists.
4. STEAM Based Education and Health
The mission of our Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) based education is to make education in our state strong at the tertiary level, stronger at the secondary level, and strongest at the Primary level. We will make major overhaul of educational delivery system to ensure that Benue becomes the centre of educational excellence in Nigeria. Mathematics is to be made the centre-piece of our science education.
Entrepreneurial education will be introduced in our schools. Teachers will be given their pride of place and there will be training, re-training, and re-orientation of teachers at all levels. Shortfall in staff strength in the Benue educational system will be adequately addressed. A loan scheme for professional educational development among Benue indigenes will be introduced. Beside the scholarships, a student loan scheme for financing education will also be introduced The capacity of Benue State University will be expanded through the provision of more facilities to support the admission of more students.
Health is wealth and we will take this sector with all the seriousness it deserves by first conducting a needs assessment of all Government general hospitals and fill the gaps.
We will continue to support the prevention and treatment of HIV/ AIDS. We will address issues of maternal morbidity and mortality, as well as infant and child mortality.
Bi-annual deworming of primary school children will be introduced. The welfare of health staff will be addressed along with continuous education and refresher courses.
Incentives for rural posting of health staff will be initiated. We will revive and ensure the accreditation of the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Makurdi. Existing private schools of nursing and health technology will be supported. Health education will be reinvigorated in the state and we shall establish and equip a trauma centre in Makurdi.
We shall promote lifestyle and wellbeing issues amongst our citizens, targeting obesity, conspicuous consumption of alcohol and tobacco and healthy living through dieting and exercises. A comprehensive health insurance scheme for all persons living and working in State will be promoted.
5. GENDER, WOMEN, YOUTH, SPORTS, AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
In line with good practices, we will mainstream gender in all our projects and programs. We will have more women in appointive, elective and decision making positions. More business ventures will be established by women with support from government and the private sector. Our industrial policy will be anchored on youth employment and sports development will be another veritable platform for engaging this virile segment of society.
10. My dear compatriots, if you make me your governor, I will constitute a participatory government in which citizens will have their say. I will work assiduously to allay the fears of marginalization of the minority ethnic groups in the State. Be you Akweya, Etulo, Nyifon, Ufia, Agatu, Jukun or Hausa you will enjoy the rights and privileges of the other better known Tiv, Idoma and Igede. The Igbo, Yoruba, Edo, Ibibio, Nupe, Ebira and all other groups who have lived in the State long before its creation will also be treated as co-stakeholders rather than settlers. From all that I have said so far, you will agree with me that I have had deep reflections on both our problems and solutions. By the grace of God, Benue will become greater, and we will all share in her greatness.
11 . I wish to remind all of you that politics and development are about people, purposes and progress. My government will create a friendly business environment for all forms of investments. My development agenda is to ensure that Benue people move out of poverty, Benue market women and men generate profit, Benue students have excellent study environment and scholarships, Benue women are politically and economically entrenched in leadership and decision making positions, Benue youths have jobs and are back to work, Benue civil servants are reinvented , Benue teachers are motivated, retirees have their dignity restored with payment of pensions arrears , the poor are made richer, the sick are healed, and minorities are reassured, farmers have fertilizer and other inputs to become the engine of growth.
12. Good people of Benue State, in addition to the fact that I have prepared myself for this job, thousands of you have been calling on me to make myself available to serve you as governor. Today, I want to declare publicly before God and all of you that I have accepted your call, and I am ready to be given the mandate to serve you as governor.
13. By the grace of God who has enabled me to fight and defeat poverty I promise that I shall mobilize the Benue community and we shall replicate the feat for the entire state using the formula that God gave me.
14. I pledge to provide service anchored on the fear of God who shall give me wisdom for statecraft and also enable me to entrench the core values of transparency, selflessness, accountability, fairness, justice, honesty, forgiveness, reconciliation and unity which shall form the foundation for accelerated development and peace in the State.
Long Live Benue State of Nigeria
Long Live The Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Thank you all and God bless.