GOVERNOR SAMUEL ORTOM’S SPEECH AT A RECEPTION ORGANIZED BY THE ALL PROGRESSIVES CONGRESS, APC, IN BENUE STATE ON HIS RETURN TO THE STATE ON MONDAY, 18TH JANUARY, 2016, AFTER THE SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT AFFIRMING HIS VICTORY.
Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Nigeria put a final seal of approval on the popular mandate which the Benue electorate gave us on April 11, last year. Let me appreciate God almighty, the Benue electorate, our great party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and our team of lawyers, for their various roles in the electoral victory and the affirmations thereafter. Let me also welcome all of you who have come from far and near to receive me home and celebrate with us after our victory at the apex court.
- Our appreciation goes to all the leaders of the state, particularly, Senator George Akume, leader of the party in the state, Chief AuduOgbeh, member of the APC board of trustees, Senator Barnabas Gemade, our state chairman, Comrade Abba Yaro and all executives of the party in the state, all National and State Assembly members, especially the Speaker, his Deputy and the Majority Leader who were personally present in court. I appreciate my able Deputy, Engr. Benson Abounu and all members of the state and security councils as well as other major stakeholders and the clergy of various denominations who have stood by us right from the campaign days to the present moment.
- Gold, they say, is always purified by fire. Our victory, in similar mode, has been put to test at all levels. With the curtain falling finally on our opponent’s appeal last Friday confirmation has been given that God’s work withstands all storms and turbulence. This is the Lord’s doing, and marvelous it is in our sight.
- We must remember that we are celebrating today as the heirs of the labours of our heroes past and have a duty to preserve our state, and sincerely invest in the future of our children yet unborn. Against this background, I dedicate our victory to all the people of Benue but more particularly to the youth who shall inherit the labours of today. The future of Benue belongs to these valiant young men and women.
- But there is no victor, no vanquished in our victory. Ours is a battle fought and won by all Benue people, irrespective of creed and political affiliation. Majority of our people yearned, prayed, worked and voted for change. We prayed and fasted for it – and God answered us. In their ranks were Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and APC members others were none partisan. While the role of everyone is acknowledged and appreciated, it is a fact that elections and political disputes are now over.
- The challenge before us is how to pull our state out of ignorance, poverty and disease. These challenges have become more acute in the face of dwindling fortunes of Nigeria’s economy as a result of falling oil prices. As things stand today, governments at all levels have a herculean task of fulfilling their obligations hence the need to think beyond the box in efforts to diversify the economy in order to boost internally generated revenue.
- We must sincerely return to agriculture with emphasis on processing and the entire value chain as a way of boosting our economy. Our government has put in place ingenious initiatives to boost agricultural production as listed in the 2016 budget. We must also provide the necessary infrastructure to boost our rural economy. To this end, the Ministry of Works and Transport shall be given the additional mandate of Power and Energy as a way of refocusing on needed power supply for our economic development and emancipation. The ministry shall become Ministry of Works, Transport and Energy.
- Soon after the judgment, I extended an olive branch to Prince TerhemenTarzoor, the PDP governorship candidate in last year’s election who also congratulated me. I also commended Prince Tarzoor for opting for the legal process rather than violence in the pursuit of his political convictions and invited him to join me and contribute his ideas and those of his supporters towards the development of the state. Let us sheathe our swords.What Benue needs at this time is for all its sons and daughters to collectively tackle the challenges of ignorance, poverty and disease afflicting the state.
- With the disposal of all litigations I wish to reiterate our commitment to offering the people of the state dedicated service that would eradicate those three challenges. Let me assure that we are not out to stifle the opposition. Democracy thrives best in the face of a vibrant opposition. Let all citizens of the state, however drop political cleavages and focus on the Benue project for the future of our present and children yet unborn.
- Perhaps it might be necessary to assure that we are committed to conducting council polls before the end of the second quarter of this year. Towards this end we are determined to empower the Benue State Independent Electoral Commission, BESIEC, to conduct free, fair and credible elections to enthrone democratically elected councils. Government shall not interfere as our wish is that the elections shall truly reflect the will of the people. This is part of the change we shall provide.
- Most of you here are aware of the situation we met on ground when we assumed office last year and the measures we took. We met a deficit treasury with huge debts of over N169 billion with the expectation of more revelations as we continue to verify. We resorted to borrowing to commence the payment of full salaries, implementation of minimum wage to teachers, take-off of our administration as well as the clearing of salary arrears of workers at the local government and state levels. The Federal Government also came to our rescue with a loan of N28 billion which has helped in no small measure to tackle the salary arrears challenge and we hope that help shall also come for us to pay arrears of pensions and gratuities.
- In the face of all these we have been able to record milestones which have made a difference in the lives of the people. These include early constitution of the state executive council which enabled us to hit the ground running, trimming of government size and introduction of cost saving measures as a response to the financial environment. We introduced an amnesty program to tackle the security challenges we met on assumption of office.
- The first part of the program, the carrot approach, yielded positive results with the surrender of over 700 youths, 500 assorted arms and thousands of ammunition. Beneficiaries who have undergone a retreat already are being sorted out into various aspects of the program which includes a return to school, skills acquisition and integration into the information gathering system of the security apparatus. The result of the amnesty program has seen increased security of lives and property in the state even as engagement with herders and farmers has minimized their clashes.
- Following the payment of part of the money owed the contractor of the water works in Katsina-Ala and Otukpo, the taps are now flowing in the two towns even as similar payment has ensured resumption of work on the Daudu-Gbajimba road. Work is also on-going on the completion of the House of Assembly Complex in Makurdi.
- The resumption of the Benue State University and payment for accreditation of its program at the College of Health Sciences has led to the graduation of the first set of 27 pioneer doctors who had spent 12 years at the institution, with more to pass out in April this year. There is massive on-going renovation at the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Makurdi preparatory to re-accreditation which the school lost for three years.
- We purchased and installed a new transmitter at Radio Benue which has improved its services and coverage even as our partnership with Daar Communications Limited and payment of compensation to Mbaikyor community in Makurdi for land they acquired has paved the way for the establishment of African Independent Television radio and television stations at North Bank in the state capital.
- We have also given attention to the judiciary through appointment of judges, reconstitution of the Council on the Prerogative of Mercy and subsequent granting of amnesty to over 100 convicts even as we have directed the renovation of Judges Quarters in Makurdi and Otukpo as well as Ministry of Justice Headquarters.
- In partnership with the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology and the Rockefeller Foundation we trained over 2, 000 youths for on-line job opportunities last December. Our commitment to the payment of counterpart funding has seen the return of development partners who were leaving the state in their numbers. These are just the major highlights of some of the things we have been able to do since assumption of office.
- Our people demanded to know how our state was brought to the brink and we instituted commissions of inquiry to investigate our income and expenditure in the last eight years, as well as verify government assets in Benue State and other locations across the country. Testimony at the commissions has been revealing, to say the least. We hope that when the reports are submitted we shall have a road map of what to do.
- Our target in government remains the implementation of the core objectives of “Our Collective Vision for a New Benue”. This will be done in accordance with the APC manifesto, while I reassure you of our commitment to leading with the fear of God. This shall translate to the entrenchment of core values that make development inevitable. These include transparency, accountability, fairness, justice, equity, honesty, selflessness, humility, discipline, integration, forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation.
- We shall put all facts before you. We have resolved that the commonwealth of the state, shall be in truth, the common wealth of all our people and we shall whole heartedly commit it to advancing the cause. Whenever I tell you that our administration has zero tolerance for corruption, I mean it. We shall pursue and recover for the state public money and property converted to personal use. Once we receive the reports of the various investigative panels, we shall tell you who took from the commonwealth of the people and how we shall recover every kobo and property of the people in the hands of anybody no matter how highly placed.
- Once again we appreciate your turning out in large numbers to rejoice with us.
- We pray that God would grant you journey mercies back to your various destinations.
- Thank you all and God bless you.
- In God we trust.