<<< By Tahav Agerzua >>>
Our attention has been drawn to a publication from the Benue Coalition for Justice, Equity and Fairness which purportedly wrote a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari alleging that Governor Samuel Ortom has diverted bailout funds.
The President of the group, Peter Hwande, and its Secretary General, Ogbole Alechenu, have been contracted to circulate their so-called petition in several newspapers and other media platforms.
They alleged that the Governor has embarked on “wanton squandering and cornering of state resources.”
According to them, Governor Ortom diverted over N2 billion included in the bailout funds for pensioners.
All these allegations are false and unfounded.
They also indicated that the petition writers do not reside in Benue State and are out of touch with the situation in the state with regard to the disbursement of the bailout funds.
Those who have followed the issue know that the Ortom administration has exhibited the highest level of transparency and accountability in the disbursement.
The state government requested N69 billion from the Federal Government to pay salary arrears, gratuities and pensions.
However, the Federal Government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, approved only N28 billion for the payment of salary arrears.
Out of this amount, N15.5 billion was for payment of salary arrears for primary school teachers and other local government staff, while N12.5 billion was for state government workers.
This information has been placed in the public domain and reiterated when pensioners met with Governor Ortom.
For the disbursement of the funds, the state government constituted a committee chaired by Engr. Benson Abounu, the state Deputy Governor.
Membership of the committee included the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, and other unions whose members are concerned with the bailout funds.
The exercise has been concluded successfully at the state level while disbursement is at the final stages at the local government level.
The system adopted for the disbursement has been the e-payment which gives no room for fraud.
Indeed, Governor Ortom has directed that all those with complaints with respect to the disbursement, including traditional rulers should be treated as priority in order to ensure that all concerned get their entitlements as quickly as possible.
The leadership of the various workers’ unions whose members are beneficiaries have expressed satisfaction with the transparent conduct of the exercise, while the workers themselves have been smiling to the banks.
The allegations by the so-called Benue Coalition for Justice, Equity and Fairness are therefore, baseless and mischievous.
Its allegation that the Ortom administration has borrowed N43 billion since assumption of office is also misleading and calculated to impugn the reputation of the APC-led government in the state.
Indeed, the resort to borrowing in the first place, has arisen on account of the profligacy of the immediate past administration which brought the state to the brink.
For the first time in its history, an administration inherited a deficit treasury.
It therefore became imperative for the Ortom administration to take a N10 billion to clear part of the salary arrears and also ensure take-off.
The administration also sought approval from the State House of Assembly to borrow N5.5 billion to pay for counterpart funds so that the development partners who were leaving the state in droves could be retained.
The objective is to also attract at least an equal amount into the state to add value to service delivery.
However, this facility is yet to be accessed.
The N28 billion bailout secured from the CBN has also been explained.
This bailout has been specifically tied to clearing salary arrears owed by the previous administration. In fact Benue State is among the 28 states who secured such a facility.
It is therefore, uncharitable, insensitive and dubious for hirelings of the previous administration to turn around to accuse the Governor Ortom administration for embarking on a borrowing spree.
The resort to borrowing became an imperative to clear the mess left behind by the immediate past administration officials of which ought to bury their faces in shame for plunging the state into financial quagmire.
Members of the public ought to know that the current smear campaign the Ortom administration is a deliberate strategy crafted by some beneficiaries of the old order to divert attention from the searchlight currently being beamed on their fraudulent and nefarious activities.
These disgraced leaders recently rose from a meeting at which the campaign of calumny to smear the Ortom administration was approved.
The current negative reports in the media against the Ortom administration, like the one under discussion, are consequences arising from that meeting.
The people of the state need to know that such reports which are sponsored with the loot from their resources are targeted at inciting them against an administration they overwhelming and popularly mandate to run their affairs within four years.
They should therefore, dismiss, ignore, and regard such as rubbish.