By Terver Akase
As someone who attended meetings of the Benue State Executive Council in eight years as an aide to the immediate past Governor, Chief Samuel Ortom and also accompanied him to the Banquet Hall of Benue Peoples House on May 28, 2023 where he handed over to his successor, Governor Hyacinth Alia, I am equipped with the knowledge of the actions and programmes of my principal’s government enough to clarify issues when some mischief is being leveled against him and his administration.
The present government of Benue State is selling a narrative to unsuspecting people of the state that they inherited N359 billion as debt from the previous government led by Chief Ortom. This narrative is not only false but is also a deliberate stratagem to snooker the people.
Curiously, this same government told the people via a statement by Governor Alia’s Chief Press Secretary in June this year that Governor Ortom handed N187.56 billion to them as debt, which was the same amount the former Governor mentioned while presenting handover notes to his successor. What the present government is saying about the state debts now contradicts their previous statement.
Governor Ortom was explicit in his handover speech that though the debt situation of the State Government at the time of his exit from office might appear to be on the high side (N187.56 billion), his administration had taken proactive steps to negotiate and ensure significant debt reduction/reliefs leading to Debt Swap Between Benue State and Federal Government as facilitated by the Nigerian Governors Forum. Total Debt Swap for State and Local Government Councils stood at N71.6billion.
The inflows Benue State was expecting at the time Governor Ortom was leaving office were: (a) Backlog of accumulated Stamp Duties – N48billion, (b) Refund from Debt Swap with Federal Government – N22.95 billion. Total = N70.95 billion. When the negotiated debt swap and the expected inflows are discounted, the State was set to attain a significant debt reduction, bringing down its debt profile to N45.2 billion.
It should also be noted that owing to the efforts of the Ortom administration, Benue State by May 29, 2023, had outstanding approvals awaiting disbursement from the Federal Government including the balance of Bailout – N41 billion and a N20 billion Central Bank of Nigeria facility. At the same time, the Benue State government was expecting N9 billion as refund on withdrawals for subsidy and SURE-P. The Alia administration is yet to tell the people if it has already received the N9 billion SURE-P funds.
In the Ortom administration’s commitment to finding a lasting solution to the problem of pensions, the State Government domesticated the Federal Government reforms in pension administration through the Benue State Pension Law, 2019 which introduced the Contributory Pension Scheme. Our administration met most of the requirements for full implementation status of the Contributory Pension Scheme. At the time Governor Ortom was rounding off his stewardship, over N8 billion had already been raised under the Scheme and Benue State was on the threshold of meeting the conditions for benefitting from the Contributory Pension Scheme including access to long-term loans and bonds for development projects or defraying existing pension liabilities.
Governor Ortom also inherited assets and liabilities. Those before him, Governors Suswam, Akume and Adasu also inherited assets and liabilities.
If the Alia administration wants the people to believe their tale, they should publicly prove that his predecessor Chief Ortom handed over N359 debt to them.
What baffles me is that the Alia administration has not disclosed to Benue people how much it has received from Abuja as federal allocations and what they have raised as internal revenue since they came on board. They are also mute on the monthly state wage bill.
Since the Federal Government removed oil subsidy, allocations to states have increased enormously. Let the Alia government tell the people what has come to Benue as federal allocation in the last five months.
To cut a long story short, publish the books and prove that you inherited N359 billion as debt.
Akase, Media Aide to former governor Samuel Ortom, writes from Makurdi.