I Will Prosecute Treasury Looters-Ortom | Independent Newspapers Limited
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I Will Prosecute Treasury Looters-Ortom

Posted: Jan 12, 2016 at 9:55 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, in this interview monitored on the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), gives account of his administration in the last six months. He also speaks on the amnesty programme, the anti-graft battle and the disbursement of the bail out funds. Excerpts:

IN the last six months, what are your achievements?

I give glory to the Almighty God for where we are today. When I came in as governor of Benue State, I knew that we had a lot of challenges. The first thing I noticed was that the whole state was under siege and it was very disturbing. The state was insecure; people were being killed indiscriminately, people were being robbed, people were being kidnapped and I saw it as a very disturbing development. I decided, right from the day of my swearing-in, from May 29,  that the first thing that I had to do was to secure the state. I thought it wise, after due consultation with the Federal Government, I granted amnesty to all those youths who were having arms illegally. As a politician, I knew what transpired during elections, our youths were armed to prosecute the election. Fortunately because of the overwhelming support, which I had from the Benue people. They were not able to execute their plans through violence, moreso that I refused to be part of any violent acts against the people of the state. The amnesty program yielded positive results. We succeeded in receiving over 400 different types of sophisticated weapons from these youths. More than 700 of these youths came together  and surrendered to the amnesty. We just held a retreat for them and we are going to encourage them to go back to school while some will go back to vocation training schemes to acquire skills. Some will be incorporated into government security strategy as part of intelligence gathering so that we can secure the state further. We are excited that this has yielded positive result. They gave me their word that they will not go back to their old ways. That was one major achievement. The intentions of government to ensure that the state is industrialised, to ensure the introduction of schemes that will promote micro, small, and medium enterprises, in ensuring that we attract investment into the state and to ensure that we encourage trading and commercial activities in the state cannot be realised without adequate security. Having confronted the challenge headlong, today, we have been making contacts all over the world and several investors are flowing into the state with the intention of investing.

Why did you borrow to pay salaries?

I met a deficit treasury and it was worrisome because of debts. Well, government is a continuous process. So, we had to take up from there. After due consultations with stakeholders and the House of Assembly, we chose to borrow N10 billion to pay salaries and take on very critical responsibilities that needed urgent government attention, that we did. We were able to dialogue with unions at the Benue State University (BSU), that were on strike and they accepted our commitment to them and they resumed and today, our students are back to school and several of them have graduated.

The other problem we had, which affected the entire state was the medical students from BSU that since the inception of the  College of Health Science, which started about 12 years ago, could not graduate due to the non- accreditation of the school. This was one issue that we gave attention and brought in the management who put all the challenges together and we took it up and paid all the requirements that were needed to get the accreditation. We invited the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria to come to Benue and the accreditation was done. Today, Benue State University has successfully graduated the first set of medical doctors in Benue, 27 of them. They are already doing their housemanship in BSU Teaching Hospital. There too, we needed to upgrade some facilities which we did and our students are doing their housemanship there in the Teaching Hospital.

We had issues of pension arrears, salary arrears and all that. What we decided to, out of the N10 billion, we started paying arrears form May because we resumed on May 29 and so when we secured this N10 billion, we started paying the arrears. Since then, for pensions, we have not reneged. We have been paying pensions because most of the pensioners live on drugs. Pension at the state level alone is N394 million. At the local government level, it is N117 million every month. We have been paying because these are our mothers and fathers, we are not toying with them.

The other issue was the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Makurdi. That is one institution whose graduates are working all over the world in Europe, America, Asia,etc. It is the only school that on graduation, appointment letters are waiting for you. We discovered that for the past three years, no administration was done because the accreditation had been withdrawn. When we came in we said we cannot allow this to continue in Benue State and so we swung into action and today if you go there, there is massive construction and renovation going on and we have set aside funds to ensure that we provide the equipment that are needed and as soon as the renovation is finished, we are going to invite the Council to come and re-accreditate the school and then our children will take off again.

Could you shed light on the disbursement of the bail out funds?

The other thing that we did was to discuss with the President and he saw the need was that salary arrears were owed for several months and he decided that we find a way around it. We were given a loan, a kind of bailout to support the staff. That is ongoing. We have been able to pay at the state level what we were owing. At the local government level, it is ongoing. But there are issues at the local government level. A lot of fraudulent activities were perpetrated by certain political leaders and civil servants. The payment is being coordinated because we have introduced a new system of payment, it’s e-payment. This will eliminate the issue of ghost workers and stop some of the indiscriminate recruitments that were making the salary wage bill to be very high.  At the local government level today, teachers and other staff have a salary bill of N3.5 billion. At the state level when you put pensions, when you put overheads, when you put together salaries, salary is about N3 billion today, pension N394 million with overhead put together is over N4 billion. Last month which is October, the total money that we got at the local government level was N2 billion with a deficit of over N1.5 billion. At the state level, total monies that we got was also N2 billion and so we had a deficit of N2 billion.

But these are issues that we are discussing, we are transparent, nothing is hidden about us. I have said that the issue of bailout at the local government level is still having some outstanding and so it requires some clarification. We have set up a committee headed by the Deputy Governor and they are receiving complaints and dealing with them as they come. One thing is that I have seen several insinuations and blackmail from the opposition who are still dreaming that we are not transparent and that money have been moved here and there. No single kobo has been diverted. We promised the people that we have zero tolerance for corruption and as far as we are concerned all the resources meant for bailout are available and people can cross-check their facts. I have said that if you see that I am doing anything to short-change the state or any person working under me, blow the wistle. It is not their right to accuse people that they have diverted N3 billion, that they have diverted so many millions and so on. Bring those facts, we are ready to deal with anybody under this government including myself. If you have facts and figures, bring them out so that we can appreciate what you are saying.

How are you fighting corruption in Benue State?

The issue of fighting corruption should not be limited to government circles alone. It should be total, the whole society should be involved. When you notice anything, it is your duty to bring it out, but bring facts and figures. If not, people can go to court against you for telling lies. So, we are very transparent and accountable. We still believe that anyone who is sincere to adding value to the development of the state should be frank and should work hard to support this government.

We have also constituted the Benue State Internal Revenue Service board because this is one area that we need to look inwards. Today the oil prices have fallen, before we came in oil was sold for about $140, today it’s sold for $38, so it means we must look inwards and looking inwards is internally generated revenue.

In summary, these are some of my achievements with several other things that we have been doing. My government has zero tolerance for corruption. We are fighting hard and one other thing that I must mention is the setting up of the two panels. One, a judicial panel to verify the income and  expenditure from 2007 to 2015. This is a fact finding panel. It is meant to give us a picture of what transpired. As at today, we are still verifying certain debts that the state is owing.

When we came in initially we were given figures by the Ministry of Finance that we had a debt burden including salary arrears, pensions and gratuities and contractual obligations and so on to the tune of N90 billion. We set up a transition committee that was supposed to collaborate with the past government but the government later withdrew and so when we came in we told them to go ahead and verify some of these facts. They came up with a figure of over a N130 billion of commitments. Then arrears of gratuities and pensions put together amounted to N169 billion. Up to today, we are still verifying because people are still bringing up some government commitments and so on. This panel is meant to bring out facts because as Christians, we do not intend to witchhunt or blacklist anyone. So the panel is meant for people to go there and exonerate themselves.

Are you saying the Benue State government has no hand in the recent arraignment of the former governor by the EFCC?

We have no hand in it. It’s very clear, he is being prosecuted for the N3.1 or N3.2 billion that was paid into a private account of a private Bureau De Change businessman who converted it to $15 million and gave him. We have not taken on any person, whatsoever, in the past government until we have the report of the judicial panel that we have set to verify these facts, because we do not want to witchhunt anyone or blackmail anyone for whatsoever reason, so we want facts. That is why I’m insisting that those whose names  have been mentioned should try and clarify this matter at the judicial panel because whatsoever they give us at the end of the day, those facts will be there and if we ask you to make refunds and you do not, we can now prosecute you.

Do you think you can recover missing funds from the 2007- 2015?

My situation room will soon be ready so people can have access to the situation room and be able to communicate with us. Information is key and I appreciate you and I promise you that you will not be disappointed at all. I agree with you totally on the need to bridge the information gap, that is what made me to appear on this programme. This is because I was popularly elected and I’m doing my best and my covenant is with God and with the people of Benue State. Even where I think that I’m clever, I cannot be clever before God. You have heard what I’ve said are some our achievements inspite of the challenges that we have. You can imagine what we’ve been able to do. A lot of insinuations and lies are being peddled. The former government officials have seen what we’ve been doing. For instance, what justification do they have to close the School of Nursing and Midwifery for more than three years? All that was needed for the accreditation was less than N300 million and one transaction where monies were stolen is in billions. These are things they do not want people to know. That was why the former Governor went to stop the probe panels but I thank the judiciary for standing by the truth and ensuring that justice must prevail. We have no intention to blacklist or blackmail anyone but let the truth be told in Benue State.