2021 Democracy Day: Benue State Reality

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    Many months ago during a working visit to a community ojigbo, Olaidu in Okpokwu Local government area of Benue state, I had a conversation with the ward head of the community, Chief Amali Anthony, who told me how his community has seen very little of government presence for several years.

    “Aside this poorly renovated government primary school, the community had no decent health facility, lack access to electricity and other basic social amenities to support decent living”, he told.

    But the experience of the people of Ojigbo is not different from that of hundreds of other communities across Benue state where government presence or visible government impact is absent.

    The reason is not far fetch: The government in Benue State is just not working for them.

    The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ

    The Forgotten Population?

    Facebook Screenshots of users describing the state of roads in their respective communities across Benue state

    The only time that rural communities are considered relevant is during election campaigns.

    Office- seeking candidates visit those rural communities to seek votes no matter how difficult it takes to reach the forgotten population.

    As soon as the candidates win and get into office, the community people are forgotten and abandoned to wait for another election cycle.

    One of the fundamental ideas of a democratic system of government is that people participate in government and that the government should work for the benefit of all people.

    However, the reality in Benue state is that the government does not work for all citizens, it works for just one percent of the population.

    And the 2018 Benue state audited financial statement confirms that.

    What is inside the Benue state 2018 Financial Statements?

    Screenshot from the 2018 Benue state Audited Financial Statement

    According to the 2018 Benue state audited report the government spends 41% of its actual earned revenue on Salaries, and social benefits including pension (personnel).

    And 31% of its actual earned revenue is spent on overhead cost (operations).  

    23% is spent on repayment of loans, while only 5% is spent on Capital project in 2018.

    The reports clearly shows that the state’s actual earned revenue for 2018 is N92.8 billion. Though available data shows the amount may be under reported.

    The state government budgeted N82 billion for capital expenditure but actually release a meagre sum of N4.7billion explains it all.

     Who are those that take much of the state earned Income?

    It’s still unclear how many people are on the state payroll but publicly available data shows that, the state’s actual earned revenue for 2018 is spent on the following number of persons;

    The state Civil servants estimated to be 19,000, Local Government Staff estimated to be 22,000, Primary school teacher estimated to be 22,000 and Pensioners estimated to be about 7,000.

    This put the estimated personnel figures to around 70,000, whereas as at December 31st 2018 Benue state population is estimated to be around 6 million.

    And that makes the number of the state public workers to be one Percent of the entire state Population.

    A vicious Circle of High Debt Servicing and Rising Debt

    When the Ortom’s government came to power in May of 2015, the state domestic debt was about N17.8 billion. However, as at the end of March 2021 the state domestic debt has risen to N128 Billion.

    This represent an increase of about 621%!

    The 2018 financial statement shows that the state spent 22% of its 2017 earned revenue to debt servicing.

    And that increased to 23% of its 2018 earned revenue on debt servicing.

    What does it all mean?

    The share of the state’s debt servicing of above 20% of its earned revenue is worrisome because given that about 70% of its earned revenue is spent on personnel and operation cost.

    And that leaves a very little percent of the earned revenue for any meaning capital expenditure.

    And for the many rural communities across Benue state like Ojigbo where there are no government presence or any visible government impact, it is because the government in Benue state, for now, is not just working for them.

    The state government earned income is use for only the one percent of the population and this has socio-economic consequences.

    History is warning us the consequences of inequality.

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