Ortom: I didn’t leave N359Bn salary arrears behind

Nigerian Concord Newspaper

The immediate past governor of Benue state, Chief Samuel Ortom PhD said that he didn’t leave any N359B salary arrears behind when he was leaving office as governor last year May.

Chief Ortom who was reacting through a press statement by his Media Aide, Mr. Terver Akase to a statement credited to his predecessor, Father Hyacinth Alia that he left a huge salary arrears debt behind also urged the governor to publish the Financial Records of the state.

The statement reads:

We read a media report attributed to Benue State Governor, Hyacinth Alia in which he was quoted to have claimed that his administration inherited N359 billion in salary arrears from his predecessor, Chief Samuel Ortom. According to the report, Governor Alia made the allegation in Okpoga, the headquarters of Okpokwu local government area of the state. We would have ignored the allegation but silence, as they say, is consent.

Going by Governor Alia’s claim that he inherited N359 billion in salary arrears, the unfounded impression created is that the past administration of Governor Ortom did not pay salaries for five years (60 months)! How possible is this? The narrative is not only ridiculously fictitious but is also a deliberate flimflam to mislead the people.

The Alia administration appears to be obsessed with the name Samuel Ortom, as they miss no opportunity to throw darts at the immediate past Governor branding him with all manner of negative hues. It is puzzling that Chief Ortom left office more than a year ago but his successor and his team can’t get off his back. This is despite the reluctance of the former Governor to engage in a media war with his successor.

Governor Alia and his men seem to forget that the campaign period is over and they are now in government to serve. The people who voted for His Excellency Governor Alia won’t ask for a scorecard titled ‘Samuel Ortom’ at the end of the day.

Governor Ortom also inherited debts in 2015, but he went on to pay seven months arrears and also implemented a 27% increase in teachers’ salaries. He implemented N18,000 minimum wage for teachers as well, the same way he later implemented the N30,000 minimum wage for workers. All these were achieved by the Ortom administration despite the fact that Nigeria went into recession on two occasions, not forgetting the COVID-19 pandemic that adversely affected the economy of the country and states.

It is imperative to mention that Governor Ortom ran a transparent government which made Labour leaders part of the joint account committee where they knew first hand what the state was receiving as allocations and how the funds were spent.

If the Alia administration has a hidden motive which is making it announce inflated and non-existent figures regarding the state resources, it is better that the government makes its intentions known rather than using the name of Ortom as it is currently doing.

Curiously, the same government told the people via a statement by Governor Alia’s Chief Press Secretary in June last 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 on May 28, 2023, to which the former Governor gave a detailed presentation in his handover notes on the efforts his administration had made to reduce the debt to the barest. What the present government is saying about the state debt now is contradictory and politically motivated.

Governor Alia and his team are quick to gleefully talk about finances as they affect the previous administration, but quickly recoil into silence whenever a question is put to them on how they are managing resources of the state. There has been zero accountability since Governor Alia took over on May 29, 2023!

The present administration has not told Benue people that since May 2023 when President Tinubu approved the removal of fuel subsidy, Benue, like other states, has been receiving federal allocations three times higher than what the previous government received.

We challenge the State Government under Governor Alia to publish the allocations they have received since May 2023 and how the funds are being expended. We equally challenge the Alia government to tell the people what the wage bill of the state is, after the Governor claimed that they removed thousands of “ghost workers” from the government’s payroll. The Alia administration should also publish what the Internally Generated Revenue, IGR of the state has been since May 2023 to date.

It is on record that before he left office, Governor Ortom took proactive steps to negotiate and ensure significant debt reduction and relief for the state. Owing to Governor Ortom’s passion and commitment in protecting his people against herdsmen attacks and injustice by the previous Federal Government, Benue State under him was denied several entitlements which he pursued for the state including funds from bonds, Stamp Duty, SURE-P, Signature Bonus, among other funds that the state legitimately deserved to benefit.
The Alia administration has received those funds. What they owe the people now is explanation on how they have managed the funds. Their explanation has to include what has been done with Benue’s share of the N50 billion which President Bola Tinubu graciously released to five northern states affected by insecurity.

If Governor Alia wants the people to believe his narrative, his government should publish the financial records and prove that it inherited N359 billion as salary arrears from the Ortom administration.

Lastly, we wish to once more urge the Governor to concentrate on governance in order to fulfill his promises to the people as campaigns are over. Chief Ortom played his part and left the stage. Governor Alia is now the one on the seat and fortunately, he has unprecedented resources at his disposal. The former Governor wishes his successor well and prays that Benue continues to prosper.

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