At this time in our history when the news is mostly about the Fulani herdsmen, there is the tendency by the press to relegate other important pieces of news to the background. The 4.2 million people of Benue State are at the moment undergoing unprecedented, untold hardship because of the action of one man who goes by the name Samuel Ortom, who happens to be our governor. It was as if the good people of Benue have wronged Governor Ortom in the most heinous way by voting him into office.
Not even in renowned banana republics would you find the type of misrule taking place right now in Benue State. This article, for reason of space, could only focus brief attention on one aspect of this misrule: the unprecedented sufferings of Benue civil servants, and how that has been impinging on the state economy.
Obviously waking from the wrong side of the bed, the Benue governor, by fiat, announced that workers of the state, whose salaries he has refused to pay for several months ranging between eight and ten months, should now forfeit those salaries and start getting paid from January this year.
He has owed pensioners, our senior citizens, who sacrificed their yesterday to facilitate our today, thirteen months of pension, and he goes about engaging in propaganda that suggests the people no longer matter to him. The issue of welfare of workers in the state has already sent dangerous signals all over the polity, and we the traumatized people of Benue are wondering whether there is no authority above the governor to call him to order.
We also wonder why, or when, the presidency will intervene and save them from obvious annihilation; and what the anti-corruption agencies are doing to stop this dangerous dance on the edge of a precipice that the Ortom administration has heartlessly engaged in. This also calls for the attention of all people of good conscience, wherever they may be, including activists and such institutions as the National Assembly, to as quickly as possible intervene before it becomes too late to do so.
Clearly, Governor Ortom feels he could take advantage of the euphoria of sympathy he has garnered across the nation, owing to the rampaging antics of the herdsmen. This is a governor who has frittered away hundreds of billions of naira now asking the hapless people he rules over to simply forget wages they have worked, starved and waited for, over a period of close to one year.
But while the people were yet to fully absorb the shock of such a policy, some workers in the Benue State Civil Service started receiving electronic notifications (alerts) for payments to them of their wages for the month of January, 2018, but with unprecedented arbitrary cuts in their paypackages.
The cuts were as high as 70 percent in many cases and on the whole not a single civil servant received alert for payment of his/her full pay package, while to date many are yet to receive any alert.
No explanation was given for the cuts, but following public outcry, Governor Ortom directed the Ministry of Finance to look into the matter, which goes a long way to prove either his callous, elementary way of passing the buck, or showing he is incapable of controlling affairs of his government.
Then closely following that second unprecedented administrative crime came the third one, which is the sacking of over five thousand workers at the local government councils of the state.
Never in the history of the state since its creation has a regime being so anti-people in its policies and caused so much pain by its actions.
This is the regime that shortly on assumption of office received a bailout package of N28 billion to settle salary arrears being owed workers but embezzled the money leaving workers empty handed. To attest to this, Benue, alongside Imo and Osun were indicted by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) as having embezzled the bailout funds they collected, prompting the presidency to order for an investigation.
The same regime has received various windfalls including three tranches of the Paris Club refund cumulatively amounting to over N25 billion. This is aside from over N100 billion received by the regime in just 2017 alone, according to figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics.
The Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) profile of the state to date remains a thing of mystery as the governor variously gives conflicting figures which never surpassed N250 million monthly, at a time less endowed states are generating triple of that amount every month. But the head of the state tax agency, BIRS, Mrs. Mimi Orubibi, has a number of times publicly declared a monthly IGR profile of N1.5 billion.
The regime will be remembered infamously for its unprecedented deficit in capital projects, having failed so far to complete even a kilometer of road anywhere in the state.
The few capital projects the regime initiated turned out to be mere conduit pipes for syphoning public funds. Those include a 40 kilometer road running to the governor’s village, Gbajimba, which was awarded to a company incorporated under a Chinese name as Tongi, but with one of his aides, Amase and his wife and children as the directors.
The contract was awarded at the cost of N4.5 billion with over N2 billion paid to the contractor, yet no serious level of work was done and the project is presently at a standstill.
The Cargo Airport project was another such white elephant conduit pipes which has since under every budget year being used by Governor Ortom to fleece the state of billions of naira of taxpayers money.
We call on all people of good conscience, within and outside of Benue State, to rise up in condemnation of the wicked designs of Governor Ortom to rob the poor and endangered workers in the state of their legitimate emoluments and opportunities for career fulfilment.
Ortom must not be allowed to completely destroy the civil service of Benue State before his impending exit from power in 2019, for the government which will take over from him next year will not be able to deliver good governance with a damaged civil service corps.
The atrocities of the Ortom regime against the civil servants of Benue State qualify as economic genocide which must be given as much attention as the menace of Fulani herdsmen, given its devastating impact on the lives of the workers and their dependents.
The time to act is now, not later.
Hirr, a public affairs analyst, wrote this piece from Makurdi, Benue State