Gov. ORTOM’s 6th Anniversary

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May 29th 2021 marks the 6th anniversary of Governor Samuel Ortom as the Executive Governor of Benue state after he was sworn in on May 29th 2015. And again on the same date in 2019 for a second term.

And that implies that Governor Ortom has 24 months left before he leaves office.

So how far has Ortom’s government kept to its promises of transforming Benue state as captured in the government’s policy document, Our Collective Vision for a New Benue” which was later upgraded to the Benue State Development Plan 2016-2025 in 2016?

The provisions in the well written documents, if implemented will transform the quality of life in Benue state and as well put the state on the path of prosperity.

In 2019, OrtoMeter, an Infotag governance tracking tool showed that Ortom’s government was far behind in keeping to its promises to the citizens.

And as the Ortom’s government faces the exit door in the months ahead, let’s do a reality check on the government’s performance.

“We will not see the truth until we are forced to see it.
 We do not see the truth until things get very painful”.- Anonymous

What Ortom met on Ground?

When he was sworn in as the Executive Governor of Benue state on May 29th 2015, Governor Samuel Ortom had serious governance challenges staring him in the face. They include:

The perennial farmers-herders crisis that was getting worst

Communal insecurity driven by pervasive armed militia gangs

Non-payment of salaries for public workers and pensioners (4months)

Perceived systemic corruption in the state governance institutions

Rotten infrastructures littered the state

The state finances were in bad shape

This was a burden on the new government and so much was expected from the new government to deal with the issues.

How did Ortom’s Government dealt with the issues?

Issues of Perennial farmers-herders Crisis

Barely had the governor settle down in office when the farmer-herders conflict resurfaced with a vicious intensity. So many people were displaced from their communities especially those communities on the boundary with Nassarrawa and Taraba states.

Map of Benue showing Violent crisis areas

And the resultant effect was thousands of citizens in the affected areas were forced to flee their homes and relocated to live in IDP camps in different parts of the state.

Sign into Law the Anti Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017

Initiated by the Benue people, the Governor to his credit signed the law that bans open grazing but supports ranching with the hope that it will bring the situation under control.

The government also created a quasi-security outfit the ‘livestock guards’ to enforce the new law that banned open grazing.

What has been the impact?

The Ortom’s government has touted the anti open grazing prohibition and ranches establishment law as a landmark achievement.

While Fulani cattle rearers are no longer seen in Benue state, reports of unarmed people been killed indiscriminately has continue, especially along the communities that share boundary with Nassarawa and Taraba states where most of the farmers-herders crisis has continue to occur to date.

Despite the seemingly politicization of the farmers-herders crisis, the ban on open grazing and establishing of ranches remains the best and only option and it requires a sincere commitment by governments and individuals at all level to make it work.

Then there is the problem of resettling the displaced population who have been ranched in the IDP camps.

So rather than bring the problem under control, it has gotten worst to some extent and poses a serious problem that might outlive the Ortom’s administration.

Issues of Communal insecurity

Apart from the farmer-herders crisis, the Ortom’s government was also faced with  pervasive insecurity of all types, from sporadic violent communal conflicts, cultism, robbery and militia gangs terrorizing many part of the state.

Governor Ortom took the following approach to deal with the issues:

Introduced an amnesty programme to curtail the growing insecurity in different parts of the state especially the sankera axis (Ukum, Katsina Ala & Logo LGAs) that led to the recovery of hundreds of arms. And even the then dreaded Late Terwase “Gana” Akwaza also embraced the amnesty.

Governor Ortom pose with ‘Gana’ before the botched amnesty

The government encouraged the activation of the local community vigilante groups in addition to signing into law the anti-kidnapping law and supporting security agencies in the state among many other security measures.

What has been the impact?

First, the amnesty was to short-lived either because it was not well managed politically or it was done in bad faith or maybe it was an act of sabotage from inside the government or whatever, the goal of the amnesty was defeated.

Second, despite all the measures taken by the government, insecurity across the state has continue to be pervasive. Sporadic violent communal conflict, kidnapping, murders and assassinations are still going on.

While insecurity may have become a national problem, and with the 2023 elections ahead, it might be unlikely to see a the insecurity problems in Benue state abate.

This will be another problem that might outlive the Ortom’s administration.

Non-payment of salaries for public workers and Pensioners  

Then APC Governorship Candidate Samuel Ortom sobbing over the non-payment of workers salary in Benue State

Before Governor Ortom resumed office on May 29th 2015, public workers in the state and pensioners were owed salaries for about four months by the then outgoing PDP government.

The reason was that the state statutory sources of income (Monthly FAAC and IGR) dipped due to an economic downturn and a suspiciously bloated wage bill.

Governor Ortom took the follow measures to resolve the issues:

The state government secured a bailout from the federal government of N28 billion, collected bank loans and was privilege to get the Paris club refund of about N39 billion in tranches.

The state government carried out several staff audit to ascertain the exact number of its workforce as well as sign into law a new pension scheme to address the challenge of payment of pensions and gratuities in the state.

And with the economy improving, the state’s share of the FAAC allocations as well as the IGR also improved as such that by December 2020 the state statutory earned income (Monthly FAAC & IGR) got to about N583 billion.

What has been the impact?

It is strange that instead of clearing the four month salaries arrears owed public workers and pensioners in the state, the salary debt owed workers rather increased to several months.

Speaking during the May Day 2021 celebration, the Benue state NLC chairman Godwin Anaya in a statement appealed to the state government to pay the salaries owed workers in the state.

Comrade Anaya gave the breakdown thus; 10 months arrears owed teachers, 5 months for state civil servants, 9 months for Local government staff and 72 months (6yrs) owed local government pensioners.

And with the Nigerian economy yet again struggling, there is a likely possibility that Governor Ortom may not clear the outstanding salaries and pensions arrears before he leaves office come May 29th 2023.

This again represents another problem that the Ortoms’ government has failed to deal with and might outlive the administration.

Systemic Corruption in the State Governance Institutions

When he resumed office, Governor Ortom acknowledged endemic corruption in the state government institutions and promised to deal with the issues head on.

Ortom’s government took the following measures to deal with corruption in the state:

The government set up a Judicial Commission Of Inquiry Into Funds Accruing/Received And The Utilization Of Benue State known as the “Kpojime Commission” which reported that over N107 billion was looted by the then government of former Governor Gabriel Suswam and was to be refunded.

The state government conducted several staff audit to expel ghost workers as another measure to tackle corruption in that area.

Also, two heads of the State Universal Basic Education SUBEB where sacked as a result of corruption related cases.

What has been the impact?

It has been all motion and no movement as far as tackling corruption is concern.

First the Kpojime report that indicted former Governor Suswam was thrown into the dustbin for “political interest” and the alleged N107 billion stolen that needed to refunded was written off?

Gov. Ortom and former Gov. Suswam in a public warm
embrace to signal the end of animosity between them

Second, while the state government under Governor Ortom may have domesticated the Procurement Act, and the Fiscal Responsibility Commission Act which are vital to institutional approach in tackling corruption, the outcomes from are yet to be seen

Third, the monthly disbursement of Local government funds is shrouded in secrecy.

An interestingly, according to the 2018 financial statement signed off by Agwaza Iorkpiligh, the state accountant general and certified by the state auditor general Ekirigwe Amos Odege shows that the state actual revenue received for 2018 was N92.8 billion.

However, infotag data on the monthly FAAC report for 2018 put the statutory earned income (State and LGA FAAC &IGR) and Paris club refund at about N127.6 billion.

This implies that about N38.4 billion earned in 2018 is not captured in the audited report.

This lack of transparency and sincerity on the part of the government represents another failure of the Ortom’s government to tackle corruption and as such may outlive the administration.

Rotten Infrastructure Littered the State

At the time Ortom resumed as Governor, the state had a number of rotten social infrastructures littered all over the state. From dilapidated primary school buildings, to bad roads, and poor state of health facilities.

Residents in the state capital and other major urban centres had zero access to pipe borne water. The state capital is without streetlights with some major township roads are in a bad state.

Education

Ortom’s Government accessed funding from UBEC and renovated hundreds of primary schools across the state. A couple of secondary schools were also renovated.

Health Facilities

The government also made efforts in the renovation of some health facilities such as the school of Nursing and in some cases even built a few new health facilities.

Roads

Ortom’s government also rehabilitated and constructed some new roads in both urban and rural areas across the state even though the quality of most of the roads leaves a lot to be desired.

What has been the impact?

For most of the 276 council wards in the state where most Benue citizens live, there is zero impact of any meaningful government infrastructure presence that has added any value to their lives.

This is not surprising as Ortom’s government infrastructure approach is more cosmetic than real.

The Benue state 2018 financial statement shows that the Ortom’s government is not serious with capital project expenditure in the state.

According to the audited report of the N81.9 billion budgeted for capital expenditure in 2018 fiscal year only N4.7billion was used.

Screenshot from the Benue state 2018 Financial Statement

There is no guarantee that there will be any improvement in the capital project expenditure between now and when the government leaves office at the end of its tenure.

Benue state Finances were in Bad Shape

Governor Ortom on resumption met the state finances in very bad shape. About 90% of the state statutory income comes from the monthly FAAC distribution and the remaining 10% comes from the state Internal Generated Revenue.

At the time Ortom took over, the income from these sources were declining.

The resultant effect was the state’s inability to pay salaries and inability to meet its other governance obligations.

Ortom’s government in 2016 re-positioned the state internal revenue services and that led to a significant increase in the state revenue income.

The government also conducted several staff audit to purge perceived ghost workers with the aim of bringing down the wage bill to an optimal level.

What has been the impact?

Its strange and confusing as to why Benue state finances has not improved but has rather taken a turn for the worst.

The state government has not been able to balance its book and as a result Benue state is at risk of insolvency.

The Benue state 2018 financial statement paints a very gloomy picture.

The audited report shows that Benue state in 2018 spent about 71% of its income on personnel and overhead cost, 23% was spent on debt and internal loan repayment while 5% was meant for capital expenditure.

Screenshot from the Benue state 2018 Financial statement

Governor Ortom, on June 4th 2019 while featuring on a Live Radio Benue programme, a few days after he was sworn in for a second term, confirmed how the state spent about 78% of its statutory income on personnel and overhead cost.

According to Governor Ortom, “the monthly salaries of state civil servants takes N2.9 billion and when you add overhead cost it goes up to about N4 billion. At the local government level, primary school teachers’ wages takes N1.8 billon, LGA workers takes N1.6 billion plus pensioners takes it to about N3.7 billion and this sum up to a total amount to about N7.7 billion monthly.

Though the former Governor, Gabriel Suswam had questioned the supposed high wage bill controversy saying, “When I left the office in May 2015, the wage bill of the state workers was N2.7 billon, and it is the same amount that the Ortom government use in paying salaries from June to September 2015.”

And the estimated number of personnel on the state payroll is said to be around 60,000 which is about 1% of the state’s over 6 million population.

So, it’ clear that Benue state spends a huge percent of its income on public workers and overhead cost. This has serious consequences on the socio-economic development of the state.

Rising Debt Profile

Benue state domestic debt profile under Ortom’s government has grown by more than 600%.

According to report from the Debt Management office , Benue state debt profile grew from N17.8 billion in December 2015 to N128 billion as at March 31st 2021 which represent an increase of 621%. While the external debt stands at about $32.5million.

The inability of the Ortom’s government to manage the state’s finances in the optimal way for the overall benefit of the state highlights a serious governance failure with serious socio-economic consequences in both the short, medium and long term.

What does it tell us of Ortom’s government overall performance so far?

Truth has the tendency to move us one way or another, in a good or bad way. If you are responsive and sensitive to truth in a good way you end up wanting to do something about it. – Anonymous

It is unarguable that Ortom’s government had serious insecurity challenges on its hands to deal with, that it perhaps mismanaged, but there is ample evidence of underlying governance failure.

It is quite clear that Governor Ortom’s government has so far failed to tackle the many challenges it inherited when it came to power in 2015.  And one may argue his government rather made matters worse.

Speaking on a Live Radio Benue programme after he was sworn in for a second term on the 4th of June 2019, Governor Ortom acknowledge the challenges his government faced in its first term and as well expressed frustrations with his inability to deal with the issues which further raised questions about his capabilities to actually govern.

And as the exit clock begins to tick down on his second tenure, it is a frighten reality to accept that Governor Samuel Ortom, based on the available evidence, may leave Benue state worst off than he met it with serious socio-political consequences.

Updated 17 June 2020