By Nsidibe Awasi
“THE food that will satisfy the stomach is easily spotted, first by the eyes.” This saying, which is very popular among some Nigerian communities, captures the feeling of majority of indigenes and inhabitants of contemporary Benue State where Governor Samuel Ortom’s barely nine-month-old administration has inspired such sense of optimism of a future bright and prosperous.
Ortom ascended the reigns of the Benue State top job on the platform of the APC – a party whose entire political campaign theme was anchored on change. Without any doubt, Ortom took over a state where public trust in the machinery of government was at its lowest ebb. Years of misrule had left most of the infrastructures rotting and decaying. Public servants were owed several months of unpaid salaries. Disunity reigned amongst the various peoples of the state, and the once revered food basket of the nation was losing its pride and place of honour among other federating states.
Only through the revelations from the ongoing attempts by anti-graft agencies to bring the past Governors of the state to accountability are indigenes offered a glimpse of what went wrong with the billions of naira that came into the state coffers and for which no tangible dividend accrued to the people.
Said Ortom on Benue’s state of finance upon assumption of office: “We met a deficit treasury with huge debts of over N169 billion with the expectation of more revelations as we continue to verify. We resorted to borrowing to commence the payment of full salaries, implementation of minimum wage to teachers, take-off of our administration as well as the clearing of salary arrears of workers at the local government and state levels.” Ortom has every right to go after looters of the state treasury; dwindling revenues from the sale of crude oil whose price has crashed in the global market means the state gets less these days from the centre. But the people won’t accept that as an excuse for non-performance and failure to deliver on election campaign promises.
Although a lean purse comes with its own challenges, Ortom knew from the outset he had to get the right values in place if Benue State had to regain its lost glory.
The rot he met on ground was orchestrated by the enthronement of the wrong values in the state. A change of values, no one will argue, offers the right anchor for any new lofty socio-economic vision that must also be enduring.
“Our administration which is anchored on the fear of God has pledged to entrench core values which include transparency, accountability, justice, fairness, selflessness, humility, discipline, forgiveness, reconciliation, integration, peace and unity which shall make development inevitable,” Ortom said in a speech delivered after his inauguration and which highlighted the core of his administration’s values.
“The challenge before us is how to pull our state out of ignorance, poverty and disease. These challenges have become more acute in the face of dwindling fortunes of Nigeria’s economy as a result of falling oil prices. As things stand today, governments at all levels have a herculean task of fulfilling their obligations hence the need to think beyond the box in efforts to diversify the economy in order to boost internally generated revenue,” he added.
In Benue State today, citizens would easily attest to the fact that one area that Ortom is changing very fast is on how government businesses are conducted in a manner devoid of graft and other related impunity. Prof.Dennis Tyavyav, Benue State Commissioner for Education, has this testimony to make of Ortom.
“He is committed to good governance, transparency, which everyone has seen,” said Dennis. “When he has allocation from the federal government, it’s clear on how it is used. No one would say a kobo is diverted. The issue of transparency, trust and credibility is key to this government. That explains why the proposed budget is tagged Budget of Trust, Credibility and Confidence” .
That is the difference between the past and the present. Corruption appeared to have engulfed the state. And to assist recover, at least some of the looted funds by the last administration, an Elizabeth Kpojime Commission of Inquiry was inaugurated. About N219 billion is alleged to have been looted fund and Ortom has expressed the confidence of recovering the money and putting it back into the provision of public infrastructure. “We shall put all facts before you as we have resolved that the commonwealth of the state, shall be in truth, the common wealth of all our people and we shall whole heartedly commit it to advancing the cause,” Ortom said on ongoing efforts to recover stolen funds.
“Whenever I tell you that our administration has zero tolerance for corruption, I mean it. We shall pursue and recover for the state public money and property converted to personal use. Once we receive the reports of the various investigative panels, we shall tell you who took from the commonwealth of the people and how we shall recover every kobo and property of the people in the hands of anybody no matter how highly placed.” In Nigeria’s recent history, I am yet to see, hear or read about a state Governor showing such courage and commitment to the fight against corruption as Ortom is doing.
It is one of the worst forms of vice for one individual or a group of persons to amass public wealth while the masses go through various forms of social and economic deprivations. Fighting corruption without creating an enabling environment for the people to engage in legitimate and profitable businesses could somewhat be counter-productive along the line. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. And it is in recognition of this that Ortom has set out to resuscitate Benue’s agricultural and industrial potentials, which over the last two decades, had not been fully or effectively tapped.
.Awasi writes from Apapa, Lagos.