Stop using Ortom as a scapegoat, Alia warned

Nigerian Concord Newspaper

The embattled governor of Benue state, Hyacinth Alia has been warned not to use his predecessor, Chief Samuel Ortom PhD as a scapegoat but rather begin to give the dividends of democracy to the people he is governing.

This warning was contained in a press statement issued by Ortom’s media aide, Mr. Terver Akase who was reacting to series of false accusations which Alia has made against Chief Samuel Ortom in less than two weeks that he assumed duties as governor of Benue state.

The statement reads below:

We read a statement issued by the present Governor of Benue State, Rev Father Hyacinth Alia in which he leveled all manner of blames and accusations on his predecessor, Chief Samuel Ortom. It was not the first time in less than two weeks of his assumption of office that Governor Alia would resort to using the former Governor as a scapegoat.

In his latest outing, the Governor has accused his predecessor of carrying out recruitment into the civil service without due process; handing to him an empty treasury and looting government vehicles, among several other unfounded accusations.

The present Governor did everything to frustrate his predecessor to the point of writing to banks not to honour any transaction by the outgoing government. Even at that, the Ortom administration still funded the May 29 inauguration.

While we won’t go into a war of words with the Governor despite the media trial, it is pertinent to clarify that the Ortom administration followed due process in recruiting the workers whom the present government sacked a few days ago. Vacancies were duly advertised in national newspapers and those who applied for the jobs were properly interviewed/screened and the successful ones were given appointment letters as required by civil service rules. Promotions were also carried out according to the laid down service regulations.

We expected the Alia administration to specifically point out the areas where it claimed that due process was not followed in the recruitments, instead of making sweeping statements and spurious generalizations.

On the issue of vehicles, the present administration may wish to be informed that it was the decision of the Benue State Executive Council that government officials including the Governor and his Deputy be given waivers to enable them to go with the official vehicles allocated to them. Governor Ortom therefore did nothing unlawful by leaving office with the official vehicles allocated to him.

It is a tradition that an outgoing Governor leaves with vehicles given to him. Perhaps we should add that the Ortom administration offered to buy vehicles for the incoming government but the present Governor declined, saying that he would prefer to buy vehicles for his administration after the inauguration.

On the issue of finances, it appears that the Governor is yet to take time and go through the handover notes that his predecessor presented to him. Whenever he does, he will realize the efforts that the Ortom administration made to reduce the indebtedness of the state in the following ways.

Governor Ortom was explicit in his handover speech on May 28, 2023 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 would 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 as at 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.

Governor Alia may further be informed that 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.

We appeal to Governor Alia that engaging in a media trial of the former Governor is not the appropriate thing to do. His predecessor is available and willing to respond to him any time he needs clarification on issues regarding the previous administration.

Government is a continuum. Governor Ortom also inherited assets and liabilities but did not allow that to stop his government. He has played his part and left the stage.

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